2008 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 38th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
THURSDAY, MAY 1, 2008
Volume 32, Number 2
|Introductions by Members||11863|
|Statements (Standing Order 25B)||11864|
|Burnaby Festival of Volunteers
| R. Lee
|Student exchange programs
|Bowen Island and Pemberton Valley
arts and music events
|University College of the Fraser
| J. Les
|Wandering Angels Lantern Festival
|Regional aboriginal authorities
| Hon. T.
| A. Dix
| J. Kwan
|B.C. Place roof replacement
| Hon. S.
|Government action on forest
| H. Bains
| Hon. R.
|Second Reading of Bills||11871|
|Medicare Protection Amendment Act,
2008 (Bill 21) (continued)
| L. Krog
| J. Kwan
| C. Evans
| Hon. G.
|Royal Assent to Bills||11899|
|Budget Measures Implementation
Act, 2008 (Bill 2)
|Small Business and Revenue
Statutes Amendment Act, 2008 (Bill 11)
|Labour and Citizens' Services
Statutes Amendment Act, 2008 (Bill 13)
|Utilities Commission Amendment
Act, 2008 (Bill 15)
|Greenhouse Gas Reduction
(Renewable and Low Carbon Fuel Requirements) Act (Bill 16)
|Public Safety and Solicitor
General (Gift Card Certainty) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008 (Bill 17)
|Electoral Districts Act (Bill 19)
|Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room|
|Committee of Supply||11900|
|Estimates: Ministry of Finance
| Hon. C.
Management of Public Funds and Debt
|Estimates: Other Appropriations
[ Page 11863 ]
THURSDAY, MAY 1, 2008
The House met at 1:32 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
S. Hammell: Hon. Speaker and hon. Members, on behalf of the Speaker I would like to introduce 14 new Legislative Assembly employees — eight summer tour guide staff and six Parliamentary Players. They are starting today and will work through to the end of the Labour Day holiday, providing tours every 20 minutes on a daily basis including statutory holidays and extending into evening hours on the weekends.
They are post-secondary students who will welcome tourists from around the world. With their assistance the legislative tour office will offer tours in English, Chinese, French, German, Japanese and Spanish.
I'd like you to welcome Alexandra Bocking, Nicole Bowden, Jessica Chu, Elizabeth Effa, Heather Gordon, Danielle Janess, Jay Mitchell, Brad Poulsen, Whitney Punchak, Nicholas Ruskin, Dirk vanDuyn, Elizabeth Weisenburger, Kaitlin Williams and Chris Wilson. Will the House please, with me, make them all welcome.
R. Lee: Visiting us in the Legislature today are 31 grade 5 students from an excellent school in Burnaby North, my riding — Holy Cross Elementary School. Accompanied by their teacher Mrs. Mariana D'amici, they are here to learn about the Legislature and also watch question period. Would the House please join me in welcoming them here today.
S. Simpson: I'm very pleased to be able to introduce 32 students and teachers who are here today from Van Tech Secondary School, but more importantly, about 27 of those students and their teachers are here from Auxerre, France, in the Burgundy area. They're here as part of an exchange of students. This is the second leg of an exchange between Van Tech French immersion students and students from France. They're here to visit us today as part of their two-week period in British Columbia and in the Vancouver area, and I hope the House will make our visitors from France very welcome.
J. Nuraney: I, too, would like to welcome a school that is visiting around the precinct here today. They are the students in grade 5 from one of my favourite schools, called the Maywood Community School in Burnaby. They are accompanied today by their principal Sue Montabello, their teacher Connie Bradley and a student teacher, Meghan Edmunds. May I please ask the House to make the students from Maywood Community School in Burnaby most welcome here today.
D. Chudnovsky: Before today, only one member of my immediate family hadn't had a chance to visit us here in the Legislature, and I'm thrilled that she's here today. Our daughter Anna Chudnovsky is here, and I think her partner Chris Kinkaid will be here in a minute. Will the House please make Anna and Chris welcome.
L. Mayencourt: As all members will know, we are often blessed with great interns that come to work for us during the summer or during the latter part of the session. I've had the privilege of working with Danica Wong. Danica came with me up to Baldy Hughes and has stayed in my office and a whole bunch of things. She's been working on some great projects with me. I'm very, very proud to have her as an intern.
I also want to tell her parents, who are here today, that they can be very proud of her as well. She's an excellent worker. Would the House please make her parents welcome, Henry and Shelley Wong.
Hon. G. Hogg: We are joined in the House today by a woman who has a long and distinguished history of dedication to the community of South Surrey and White Rock. She has worked tirelessly in strengthening the community and has a passion for people, education, sports and for the underprivileged. She's championed many innovative programs. In fact, during the firestorms of Kelowna she walked llamas safely out of harm's way. Please welcome an over-23-year-serving member as a trustee in the school district of Surrey, Ms. Laurae McNally.
S. Simpson: I do want to make one other introduction. One of the students that participated in that exchange from Van Tech and went to France is my daughter Shayla, who is here helping to host our guests from France. Please make my daughter welcome.
R. Hawes: In the gallery today are two members of our caucus staff that work in my office, Marc Chawrun and Richard Davis. Both are hard-working guys who keep the Whip's office working very well. So could the House please make them welcome.
J. Yap: Also in the House for a rare visit to the public gallery is another member of our caucus staff who works diligently to help our caucus stay on track and works on various projects for us. That's Melissa Nowakowski. Would the House please make Melissa welcome.
Hon. J. van Dongen: Visiting the Legislature today for the first time is my uncle, John van Dongen, the same name as myself…
Hon. J. van Dongen: It's the one time I get to say it, Mr. Speaker.
…with his friends Craig and Jan Huisman, who are farmers from Chilliwack. I ask the House to please make them very welcome.
[ Page 11864 ]
J. Nuraney: Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I would like to once again introduce a class that has just walked in and sat in the gallery. They are the students in grade 5 from my favourite school in Burnaby, the Maywood Community School. They are accompanied today by their principal Sue Montabello and their teacher Connie Bradley. Please, House, join me in making them very welcome.
Mr. Speaker: Minister of Small Business and Revenue. You're not wishing your wife a happy birthday? [Laughter.]
Hon. R. Thorpe: Mr. Speaker, as I've told you many times, you are the Speaker here, but I am the speaker at the apartment. Yes, my wife Yasmin….
J. Kwan: We don't want to know more. [Laughter.]
Hon. R. Thorpe: Well, you would never know by your debating skill that you support less rather than more.
But anyhow, thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Yes, I would ask all members of the House today to join in the celebration of my wife Yasmin's birthday.
(Standing Order 25B)
BURNABY FESTIVAL OF VOLUNTEERS
R. Lee: Volunteers are a vital part of communities across British Columbia, and the generous donation of their time has helped to improve the quality of life for all of us. As this week is National Volunteer Week, I would like to thank the more than 1.5 million British Columbians who give back to their communities through volunteering, especially those who volunteer in Burnaby.
To help promote volunteerism and community services in Burnaby, the fifth annual Burnaby Festival of Volunteers will take place this Saturday, May 3, at Brentwood Town Centre from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Many of our local organizations — including the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Burnaby Optimist Club, South Burnaby Neighbourhood House, Burnaby North Community Association and many others — will put up displays to raise awareness about the services they offer, as well as, hopefully, to recruit some volunteers.
While learning about the many volunteer organizations, we will have entertainment staged throughout the day. The North Burnaby Retired Society will be performing a traditional Chinese dance. There's CheonDoong, Korean percussionists; the Youth for Christ Band and hip hop dancers; the Kabok Strings youth orchestra; Kanchan Lal, who will be performing bhangra dance; and Irene Lumayag, who will be singing for everyone in attendance.
I would like the House to join me in thanking the sponsors and organizing committee members Lee Faurot, Oscar Cruz, Amy Sundberg, John Renko, Ken Ryan, Cynthia Hendrix, Patrick Ng, Judy Chu, and volunteer Jane Leah and students from Alpha Secondary School for their time and energy to make this Burnaby Festival of Volunteers a success.
Volunteering is a rewarding and fun way to give back to the community. As founding co-chair of this festival, I would like to invite all members of the House and the residents of Burnaby to attend this wonderful event.
STUDENT EXCHANGE PROGRAMS
S. Simpson: My daughter Shayla is a grade 11 student in the French immersion program at Vancouver Tech Secondary School. Recently she and a number of her classmates travelled to France for two weeks to stay with local families and spend time getting to know a little bit about France and to take another step on their maturation as young adults.
They travelled to the town of Auxerre, a community of 42,000 in the Burgundy region. Many of our students stayed in smaller villages around Auxerre, experiencing an environment that is very different than that in East Vancouver. Today 27 young people and their teachers are here on the second leg of this exchange — 15- and 16-year-olds who come from Auxerre and surrounding villages — many of whom have never previously been on an airplane and certainly have never been so far from home in either geographic or cultural terms.
I know Flor, the young woman who is staying with us. Her village is some 400 people. She is soaking up her exchange experience in Vancouver, visiting Whistler and here today to visit us in the Legislature or just spending time with her British Columbia student peers.
This is an invaluable opportunity for these young people from both nations. It broadens their horizons, makes connections and builds friendships that cross the world. Our world is becoming a more complex place, with discrepancies in wealth and opportunity that put hundreds of millions of global citizens at risk. British Columbians, like everyone else, need to become more global in our thinking if we're to contribute to the solution of these problems.
Exchange programs offer an opportunity for our young people to begin to develop that perspective. Unfortunately, exchange is not cheap, costing about $3,000 per child to send students to France. While many parents could afford this, it is certainly not true for all. This is an opportunity that should not be decided by money, but too often is.
I would encourage the government and all members here to seek ways we can support these programs and, in particular, to ensure that those children who have this door closed on them because of money be given the same opportunity as everyone else.
BOWEN ISLAND AND PEMBERTON VALLEY
ARTS AND MUSIC EVENTS
J. McIntyre: I stand today to boast about two new and exciting arts and music festivals on Bowen Island
[ Page 11865 ]
and in Pemberton Valley this summer, which will showcase local and international talent. Bowen Island is renowned for its arts and culture sector, thanks to the effort of the Bowen Island Arts Council, which continually encourages and promotes local artists in the island community.
To help showcase Bowen Island's creative community, the province is supporting two BC150 events on Bowen this summer. In addition to the annual Bowfest held in August, this July 11 to July 13 will mark the first-ever annual Bowen Island festival of the written arts, called Write on Bowen. The three-day festival is designed for all readers and writers alike.
The village of Pemberton is also celebrating a new music festival this summer, which has received incredible hype across the country in addition to the huge encouragement from the local residents. This three-day festival will surely be a success, with an impressive lineup of bands — some of my favourites — including Coldplay, Tom Petty, Tragically Hip and Nine Inch Nails. Merritt is no doubt going to get a run for its money.
Although this new music festival will exhibit international icons, rest assured that our local customs and ecological values will be on display. Shane Bourbonnais of Live Nation, who is the driving force behind what we hope will be an annual event, has expressed that the festival will promote local produce and demonstrate our famous green reputation. Those who carpool with four or more people will get free parking. Hydro energy will be the main source of power, and farmers' markets will let the crowd sample the high-quality local ag products.
I would like to applaud the efforts of Kate Coffey, president of the Bowen Island Arts Council, along with her team and Shane Bourbonnais, along with the residents of Pemberton Valley–Mount Currie.
Creating new arts and music festivals highlights the growing demand in the B.C. arts and culture sector and ignites interest and pride among the local artists and residents. A vibrant arts and culture sector not only enriches individual lives but presents an excellent opportunity to attract visitors to our province. This summer's lineup should set a high standard.
D. Routley: I rise today to speak about the youth of British Columbia. When I think of the youth of British Columbia, I think of people like Chuck Seymour, a leader in our Cowichan Tribes community who is leading a reclamation of culture, and the Bench School students in the Cowichan district, who are leading a challenge to ban plastic bags. Those are great things, and they're leaders.
I think about demography. I think about David Foot, the demographer who pointed to my birth year, 1961, as the worst year to be born because we're a bit like a Cessna landing behind a 747 — very turbulent. We entered inflated markets with somewhat deflated expectations — inflated housing markets, inflated job markets. These are the challenges of youth.
I think we need to do our part to reconnect the youth to their vision, to capture their idealism, to invest in their hope, to avoid this growing reality of increasing debt and lowering incomes. They should not face this opportunity that the retirement of boomers offers them without us recognizing the challenge that that presents to them.
The reality is that we need to make a call. We need to be leaders in a call for respect of young people. We need to be leaders in a call for faith in young people. We need to invest for return in British Columbia, and we can do that by investing in young people — in training, in opportunity. We have to place our hope for British Columbia in young people. Most of all, we have to invest our faith in young people.
OF THE FRASER VALLEY
J. Les: Easy access to quality post-secondary education close to home is essential for families across British Columbia, and that is why people in the Fraser Valley were ecstatic when on the 21st of April the Premier announced that the University College of the Fraser Valley will become the University of the Fraser Valley.
Students, parents and community leaders across the valley saluted this announcement as a huge step forward to ensuring that students will be able to access a full university-level education close to home. This new university with 14,000 students will build on the strong history, success and traditions of the University College of the Fraser Valley.
This institution has come a long way over the last 40 years, from humble beginnings in the 1960s as a night school. The University College of the Fraser Valley recently received accolades from the Globe and Mail university report card, where it was rated at the top of its category nationwide for having the most satisfied students, the highest quality of education, the best library, the smallest class sizes and the easiest course registration process.
Today, with major campuses in Abbotsford and Chilliwack and facilities in Mission, the University College of the Fraser Valley is an education hub drawing students from across the valley, the province and from abroad — from India, China and elsewhere.
UCFV has an excellent reputation across the country and offers a wide variety of bachelor and applied master's degree programs in areas such as criminology, business, nursing and the arts. The future looks even brighter. Recently the Minister of Advanced Education opened Canada's most advanced trades-training facility at the new recently acquired 85-acre Chilliwack campus.
As a lifelong resident of the Fraser Valley and a parent of several grads of UCFV, I'm looking forward to my grandchildren, along with their peers from across the Fraser Valley, being able to obtain their post-secondary education close to home, taking full advantage of the wonderful learning opportunities that will
[ Page 11866 ]
be available for them at the University of the Fraser Valley.
WANDERING ANGELS LANTERN FESTIVAL
S. Hammell: Two years ago late in the summer and early in the evening, I joined a large number of Surrey residents and wandered through the streets of Whalley with angels — beautiful, awesome and fantastic angels. We were all participating in the Wandering Angels Lantern Festival, a festival inspired and fuelled by the success of neighbourhood lantern festivals worldwide, including Vancouver's popular Illuminares and the yearly Lantern Festival that circles Deer Lake in Burnaby.
There's something about lanterns and the glow of candlelight at night that captures the child in all of us, and this evening of magic and delight met all those childhood expectations. There were lanterns of all shapes, colours and sizes held by child, parent and senior alike.
But the dominant lanterns were shaped as white floating angels that moved gracefully as they wandered high on sticks through the crowd. These angel lanterns also looked on from trees at the wandering parade of people, stilt-walkers and puppeteers. The parade of lanterns passed fire dancers and musical entertainment as they moved through their route.
The Wandering Angel Lantern Festival is returning to Whalley and central Surrey. The community artists' studio was opened last Saturday, and professional artists and community participants will come together there again to create lanterns that will light the evening and transform the newest of Surrey's urban parks, Holland Park, into a magical evening on August 30 of this summer.
I invite everyone in this House to join me in a stilt-walking or lantern-making workshop, or just come to Surrey's second annual Wandering Angels Lantern Festival. You will enjoy an amazing evening.
REGIONAL ABORIGINAL AUTHORITIES
N. Simons: It's been six years since the Premier promised regional aboriginal authorities for child welfare to "enhance the capacity of aboriginal communities to make decisions for their children." They were supposed to be in place by 2005, then 2006 and then 2007. Yesterday the Premier broke their 2008 throne speech promise by pulling the legislation at the last minute.
After six years of failure and $39 million of wasted money or money misspent, who should the Minister of Children and Family Development hold responsible for this fiasco?
Hon. T. Christensen: First nations leaders and aboriginal people across the province have told us that they want the right and the responsibility to care for their children. This government agrees. We had hoped to proceed with legislation this session to enable the establishment of aboriginal authorities so that those first nations who wanted to take advantage of that opportunity could do so. There are first nations who believe that the authority model is the one that will work for them.
We intended that any participation in an authority would be voluntary. What we've found is that there is significant opposition among some members of the First Nations Leadership Council and among other first nations across the province, and the level of opposition threatened to undermine the success of those who wish to take advantage of the opportunity.
Yes, government could make a choice to forge ahead in light of that opposition. But I believe that the prudent choice, the responsible choice, is to work with the leadership council and with first nations to try and address the concerns they have so that this can be successful in ensuring that aboriginal people do have an effective voice in serving their children and families.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
N. Simons: This is an example of incompetence and mismanagement. It has a direct impact on children and families in this province. The process was faulty from the start, and the minister knows it, except he just seemed to realize it publicly yesterday. Thirty-nine million dollars in six years. During these six years the percentage of aboriginal children in care went from 42 percent to 52 percent. There is chaos and disillusionment in the ministry, and there is anger among first nations.
How could this minister have bungled the process so badly?
Hon. T. Christensen: The member seems to be suggesting we should have pushed forward with legislation in light of the opposition. The member and members of the opposition have…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. T. Christensen: …on numerous occasions raised questions in respect of the move towards aboriginal authorities.
I'd like to know: does the member support working with first nations and aboriginal people across the province to find models that work so services can be improved to those families? Or is the member content to continually try to undermine that process and ensure that it's not successful?
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
The member has a further supplemental.
N. Simons: This government has known about first nations anger and concern for many years. This is not something that came up yesterday, and to claim that it
[ Page 11867 ]
is, is kind of ridiculous. I don't think anyone in this House or in the public believes that for a minute.
Instead of fixing the problem that was addressed a long time ago to the minister, they said they would consult more. In fact, they have some consultation planned. However, that consultation should have occurred before passing the legislation or even bringing it in.
How could they try to sneak it in yesterday? How can the minister expect that first nations are going to trust the word of this government when they've gone back on their word so many times?
Hon. T. Christensen: The member can't have it both ways. His first question was: why didn't the legislation proceed? He seemed to wish that the legislation would proceed in light of there being opposition. Now the member is suggesting: "Well, no, you shouldn't have gone forward with legislation." So you can't have it both ways. For once it would be nice if the members of the opposition made their position on any single issue clear in this House so that we know what they think.
We're certainly committed to working with first nations. This government is committed to working with first nations and aboriginal people across the province to ensure that we realize their goal of taking control and responsibility for delivering services to their children and families. That's our goal. We're going to continue to work with them to do it, and we're going to get there.
S. Fraser: Shocking answer from the minister. This is a minister that used to be the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. He said he's working with first nations on this?
Well, he has received correspondence and complaints and concerns from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, from the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, from the Stó:lô Tribal Council, from the Chehalis Indian Band, from the In-SHUCK-ch Nation, from the First Nations Directors Forum — repeatedly.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the Chehalis Band, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council — they're not all wrong. They're on record as raising concerns, and this minister ignored them. They were sounding alarm bells, and this minister was planning on going ahead with a celebration yesterday.
Did he really think that after six years — six years — of delay and broken promises, he could bring in legislation dealing with aboriginal children in care by ignoring first nations leaders?
Hon. T. Christensen: That's nonsense.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. T. Christensen: I would invite the member to sit down with the first nations who have said clearly to government: "We think this provides us an opportunity to ensure that we have a voice in the care of our children." Those are the first nations that today are ready to move forward with an authority model and wanted that legislation to proceed. They are disappointed today, as am I.
We are committed to working with those first nations to find how we can ensure that they have an effective voice in the delivery of services to their children and families immediately. Similarly, we are committed to working with the First Nations Leadership Council and those first nations who have expressed concern about the authority model to determine: what is it that we can do with them to ensure that they, too, have a voice in serving their children and families?
Mr. Speaker: Member has a supplemental.
S. Fraser: The minister said he's committed to working with the leadership council. Well, he said earlier, in his response to the earlier questions, that the leadership council and those that expressed concern were actually threatening to undermine this.
This minister is working in a bubble. Not only has the minister set this process back to the detriment of aboriginal children in care, he has poisoned his own relationship with first nations people in this province.
Now, I'll bet that when the minister was ushering first nation elders out of this place yesterday, he wasn't taking responsibility for this bungling. I'll bet he was blaming others. He was blaming the leadership council, those first nations that he was not listening to.
To the Minister of Children and Family Development: will he stop blaming others? Will he stop blaming others and admit he failed, admit his incompetence and fix the process?
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. T. Christensen: I spent a little over an hour yesterday with first nations chiefs, council members, elders and aboriginal leaders who had come here to Victoria in the hopes that legislation would be introduced to enable them to have a strong voice in the delivery of services to their communities. They left that meeting heartbroken, as did I.
We are committed to working with those first nations to realize their goals. We are committed to working with those first nations who expressed concerns about the legislation going forward, many of whom I have spoken with in the last 24 hours and all of whom have committed to work with government to address those concerns and recognize that we do need to make progress. That's the commitment of this side of the House.
I'd still like to know: what does that side of the House think should happen in terms of the establishment of authorities and in terms of ensuring that first nations do have an effective voice in serving aboriginal children and families?
[ Page 11868 ]
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
A. Dix: The members opposite can laugh and joke about this embarrassing failure by the minister and the entire cabinet.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Just take your seat for a second, Member.
Do you want to start again?
A. Dix: I know they want to shout down these questions. Six years of failure. In 2002, the year this project was announced, they cut the Ministry of Children and Families budget by 23 percent.
Deadline after deadline — '04, '05, '06, '07 — missed, all missed, and $39 million wasted. Yesterday the minister himself humiliated after he was yanked off the stage by the Premier. The cabinet negligent — they all signed off on them. Every single one of them signed off on this piece of legislation that was coming into this House today.
How can the minister possibly expect British Columbians to have confidence in him after he's overseen this debacle?
Mr. Speaker: I want to remind members to listen to the question and listen to the answer.
Hon. T. Christensen: It is obvious that making progress in terms of ensuring that aboriginal people have an effective voice in delivering services to their children and families is such a simple matter that the NDP for ten years failed to make progress in it whatsoever.
We proposed an opportunity, with the establishment of authorities, that would have been voluntary. For the members opposite to suggest that the work over the last six years in discussing options with aboriginal peoples, in working with aboriginal service providers and chiefs and delegated agencies to the Joint Aboriginal Management Committee to realize a vision where aboriginal people could have that effective voice, was a waste of time is offensive.
I will be the first to admit that I would be much happier if we were further along in reaching that final goal today than we are. But I can assure you this. We're much further along than those members ever would have been if they were in government, because they can't make up their mind what they stand for.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Member has a supplemental.
Mr. Speaker: Member.
A. Dix: You know, the members opposite…. Again, all they have is personal attacks because this is…. All they have….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Member, just take your seat for a second.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Member.
Mr. Speaker: Member.
A. Dix: A 12-year-old boy or girl at the beginning of this process will be an adult before they get it done. That's a record of failure.
What we're asking the Minister of Children and Families to do is take responsibility. He was humiliated yesterday. He discovered there was opposition yesterday after six years of claimed consultation. He discovered it yesterday and was pulled off the stage at the last minute. It was an embarrassing display, which would be just embarrassing if the stakes for children and families weren't so high.
So I'm going to ask the minister again: how can anyone in British Columbia have confidence in him when his performance on this dossier has been so very incompetent?
Hon. T. Christensen: Well, perhaps the member will forgive me if I don't take his assessment of the situation too seriously.
I will continue to work with first nations leaders on the First Nations Leadership Council. I will continue to work with chiefs and councils across the province, both those who want to see an authority established and those who have concerns about it. We will find the path forward that makes sense.
But let's put this in perspective. You know, it has taken us well over a hundred years in this province to get to this state of affairs in terms of children and families and aboriginal children and families. We are trying to reverse that trend. We are making a sincere effort to engage with first nations leaders, with Métis leaders and with aboriginal people to ensure that we are working collaboratively and together to ensure that aboriginal children and families have a stronger future.
What I'd like to know is: what is the opposition doing?
J. Kwan: Maybe the minister should actually take a look at the correspondence that he has received from aboriginal leaders. In fact, they call the government action "a direct disregard of leaders and a vast majority
[ Page 11869 ]
of aboriginals in the region." This is a quote from Tyrone McNeil, the tribal chief from the Stó:lô Tribal Council. He goes on to say that this is also an affront to aboriginal rights as well as to the new relationship.
Why didn't the minister recognize that the aboriginal community leadership was against the government's plans on regionalization until yesterday? And why didn't the minister recognize that it is only when you have the support of the first nations leadership that the regionalization process for children and families will work and that to do otherwise will simply place children in harm's way?
Hon. T. Christensen: Perhaps the member opposite should talk to the first nations leaders, who were very clear that they wanted the opportunity to establish an authority, that they wanted legislation to be introduced and passed. We know there isn't consensus among first nations in terms of whether they want to participate in an authority. That's why it's voluntary.
Voluntary means that you get to choose whether you're served by an authority, whether you participate in an authority or not. We are committed to working with those who do not want to participate in an authority to ensure that they, too, can find a means to have an effective say in the design and delivery of services to their communities.
If the members opposite are suggesting that we should wait until there is consensus among the 203 first nations across the province, then I don't agree. But what I would agree with is that we have work to do. We're committed to doing that work.
Again, I would ask: are the members opposite in favour of enabling first nations to have a say or not?
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Member has a supplemental.
J. Kwan: Let's be clear. The minister is claiming that somehow he can't move forward because there isn't consensus and that somehow it is the leaders who didn't actually present that point of view to him until yesterday. False.
Here's what they said in the correspondence to the minister from Doug Kelly, Grand Chief of the Stó:lô Tribal Council. He said: "Despite the so-called new relationship, I understand that your officials did not engage members of the leadership council or other officials with the development of the proposed legislation."
Six years in the making, and the government didn't get it that they need to consult with aboriginal people around regionalization for aboriginal people and their children? I'm going to ask the minister this question.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
J. Kwan: My question to the minister is this. If he won't take responsibility for his actions — six years of bungling this file, $39 million later and having nothing but condemnation from the leadership of the aboriginal community — will anybody on that side of the House take responsibility today?
Hon. T. Christensen: It's unfortunate that the members of the opposition seem to want to take advantage of challenges in coming to agreement with first nations…
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. T. Christensen: …about how they can effectively…
Mr. Speaker: Continue.
Hon. T. Christensen: …work to improve the delivery of services to aboriginal children and families. There's a dire need to improve those services. There's a dire need to ensure that aboriginal people can exercise an effective voice in that work.
We are committed to continuing to work with leaders who are in favour of authorities, with leaders who have concerns about authorities, so that we actually meet the mutual goal that we share with first nations and aboriginal leaders in this province. That is to improve outcomes for their children and families.
B.C. PLACE ROOF REPLACEMENT
N. Macdonald: Today we're being told that because the government refused to listen to warnings in 2006, because of this minister's incompetence, we're not going to be able to reroof B.C. Place for the Olympics. A billion people are going to be watching the opening ceremonies.
The question for the minister is this. Why has the minister, why has this government put British Columbians in the position where the only viable option is a roof that has already collapsed?
Hon. S. Hagen: We're in the middle of a process now with PavCo, who are bringing forward suggestions to the government. They're bringing forward a solution. I've got to tell you, when the public sees the results of that work and when they see what the government has decided as a result of that work, they're going to be the proudest people in the world about what British Columbia is showing off to the three billion people who will be watching.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
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GOVERNMENT ACTION ON
H. Bains: Yesterday the Minister of Forests refused to take action to keep pulp and paper workers employed on the coast. Today he would have an opportunity to redeem himself. Mackenzie sawmill has and can continue to employ in work 110 family-supporting jobs, even in this market condition.
My question to the minister is this. Will the minister guarantee today that this mill's log supply source will not be allowed to export logs, so that this mill can continue to work?
Hon. R. Coleman: I guess the member opposite wants to tell a company when it should run, when it should lose money and how much money it should lose. It did that in the 1990s with Skeena Cellulose and flushed $500 million of taxpayers' money because they interfered in the marketplace.
Sorry, Member, you don't get the opportunity to do that.
Mr. Speaker: We're not going anywhere until there's quiet.
Just take your seat.
Member has a supplemental.
H. Bains: Consistently, this minister shows that he's not up on this file. Today he is exhibiting the same disqualification for himself.
I'm talking about Mackenzie sawmill in Surrey. There is an application on the minister's desk right now asking for tree farm licence 38 and Soo TSA logs to be exported. Those are the log supplies for this mill. If this minister allows this log export to go ahead, that would jeopardize those 110 jobs.
The situation is so bad that the president of the Mackenzie sawmill has written to the minister and to the timber exporter advisory committee that they should not allow this application. This minister consistently said that there's nothing he can do, and he said the same thing today.
In this case, he has a choice whether this mill runs or this mill shuts down. Now, my question to the minister, again, is: will he commit today that the log supply for this mill will not be allowed to be exported?
Hon. R. Coleman: The member opposite knows there's a surplus test on the export of logs, that log exports in British Columbia from Crown lands are virtually down to nothing. The company can actually put a blocking bid in place. They can actually go after the logs if they want.
But the other thing you don't understand, hon. Member, is that just because they come off some TFL doesn't mean somebody is going to go cut them — if there's no place to sell them where they can actually get a return on investment.
D. Routley: The Forests Minister says no to protecting pulp and paper jobs, even though it's within his power to do so. He says no to keeping sawmills open, even when it's in his power to do so.
The minister is so out of touch with his file that on Tuesday he stated that there are virtually no log exports from British Columbia now. But in January and February alone of this year we exported over 10,000 truckloads of raw logs from British Columbia, more than the entire year of exports for 1996.
We asked yesterday, and we're asking again today: will the minister commit to protecting family-supporting jobs here in B.C. and on Vancouver Island by immediately restricting the export of raw logs from this province?
Hon. R. Coleman: Your own leader was on radio up in Terrace saying there were times in the province's history that we should actually allow export of logs. You know, you can't have it both ways.
On one side, in one area of the province, whether it's the midcoast or the northwest, I guess you don't want to allow them to export a log. Therefore, all the jobs up there can disappear. On the other side of the coin, you decide that you're going to try and manage the trade. On the other side of the coin, all you want to do is say: "Nobody can work in forestry. Nobody can have a job. Nobody should have an opportunity."
And the other thing, hon. Member: your numbers are wrong.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
The member has a supplemental.
D. Routley: So he says no log exports, but 10,000 truckloads — and my numbers are wrong? I don't think so. His can't-do mentality is to say no to people. His "virtually no" doesn't mean anything to the people of my riding. To them, no means no. It means no job, no sawmill, no money for the mortgage payment, no money to put food on the table.
That's the reality of what this minister has brought, and the minister doesn't get it. Their no is real. His no action is the cause. When will the minister stop log exports and get the fibre to the pulp sector and sawmills that can run? When will he do something?
Hon. R. Coleman: Our annual allowable cut is somewhere around 70 million to 80 million cubic metres a year. In the first quarter of this year 250,000 cubic metres was the total export from Crown lands in the province of British Columbia.
I think it's astounding that this member gets up knowing full well that a company in his riding, which he keeps putting down, invested in the Saltair mill so that 124 people could be at work today in that community. I find it astounding that they don't recognize there
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are seven sawmills by one company, three reman plants by that company and work being done in the bush in one of the toughest economic times in the history of the forests in British Columbia.
I find it astounding that the member for North Island just yesterday said: "There's nothing about market conditions here." It's all about how you've just got to make these guys run their mills and lose money. So the NDP forest policy would be: "You run your mills, go broke and throw out everybody. Nobody has a job, and there's no future in forestry." We will not make those kinds of decisions.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
[End of question period.]
B. Lekstrom: I rise to present a petition from over 4,000 motorcyclists in British Columbia asking the government and ICBC to work towards the implementation of transferable plates for motorcycles in British Columbia.
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: I call in this chamber continued second reading debate on Bill 21 and in Section A, Committee of Supply — for the information of members, debates on the estimates for the Ministry of Finance.
Second Reading of Bills
AMENDMENT ACT, 2008
R. Chouhan: I rise to oppose Bill 21, the so-called Medicare Protection Amendment Act. In this bill there's nothing to protect medicare. If you look at the introductory remarks made by the minister, he said that only the definitions were expanded and that the administration of the Medical Service Plan will not be changed, nor the functioning of the Medical Service Commission. That begs the question: why, then, is the government introducing legislation that won't change anything?
The government has also added the sixth principle, sustainability, to the definition. What is it? Can somebody explain it? So far, we haven't heard any explanation — none, zero.
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
The minister has failed to describe it, because he cannot tell the truth. The truth is so different. If it comes out, people will know that the agenda of this government is to create more chaos in the public medical care system so that people can say: "Hey, it's not working. Let's have a privatized system."
That's what they're trying to do. By adding the term sustainability as the sixth principle of the principles of medicare, the B.C. Liberals are undermining the existing five principles that have served British Columbians and Canadians very well.
Everybody knows that if the truth comes out, people will start asking questions. That will hurt the Liberals' credibility, if they have any. Catchy phrases and deceptive slogans are not going to fool British Columbians anymore. They know the truth behind the real agenda of the B.C. Liberals because they have seen in the past how the B.C. Liberals have operated, how they have functioned.
We can give you many, many examples. The first one is the so-called Conversation on Health. Then there was also Bill 29 and the overall government agenda on privatization. That's what sustainability means. That's what this government is talking about.
Now, when we talk about the Conversation on Health, the public won't trust this government, because what happened during that Conversation on Health…. The Premier promised that he would come and join and participate in those meetings. He was nowhere to be seen at any meeting anywhere. Hundreds and hundreds of people came. They attended; they participated. They let their views be known to everybody. They made it clear that they want a public health care system, not a privatized health care system.
As a result, the Premier didn't want to go there. He didn't want to listen to those views, because those were not his views. He would not like to see those people standing up and talking about defending public health care.
What people want is sustainable public health care, not catchy slogans to promote privatization through the back door. Public health care is for everyone, not for those who have maybe a heavy wallet, more money, maybe more beautiful fancy cars. In British Columbia everybody deserves a public health care system that everybody, at any time, can have when they need. That's what it is.
The Premier didn't show up because, also, he was not prepared to listen to what the public may have said. The public was very clear. All those who attended those meetings were very clear that they had no appetite for a private health care system.
The system that we have seen this Liberal government trying to make is for profit, for the B.C. Liberals' rich corporate friends. That's what they want to do.
Instead of accepting the people's verdict, the government is now trying to create an impression that the current system does not work. "It's not functioning. It's not sustainable. Therefore, let's privatize it." They're trying to create that impression in people's minds.
So Bill 21, which we are talking about, is not going to protect the public health care system that we are
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known for. Under the so-called added definition of sustainability, the government will download more and more costs onto the patients, forcing people to think that because of extra costs out of their pockets, there won't be much difference between a public and private health care — hence, more privatization.
I guess that's the meaning of the B.C. Liberals' sustainability. But the minister won't like to explain it, because if the real explanation comes out, the real agenda will come out. That's a problem.
As everyone knows, health care is the most important issue on people's minds in British Columbia. Seniors expected 5,000 long-term care beds to be completed by 2008. That was the promise made by this government a long, long, time ago.
Hon. R. Coleman: Is 2008 over?
R. Chouhan: The Minister of Forests is saying that we have a few more months, that they can complete 5,000 beds by the end of this year. That's good. I would like to see that happening.
R. Chouhan: End of the year. Okay, that's very promising. Very, very reassuring. That's very good. I guess it's another hollow promise like so many other promises we have heard before, like the promises this government has made and this Premier made to the health care workers before the 2001 election. Is that the kind of promise we are hearing today?
Let me tell you what happened. That promise that this Premier made to the Hospital Employees Union….
Deputy Speaker: Member, I'm going to caution you, as we've had this discussion earlier in this debate, to confine your remarks, please, to the relevant topics in the bill.
R. Chouhan: Madam Speaker, I am really confused now. I have a copy of the minister's speech, the opening comments, in my hands, and 70 percent of those comments that he made were totally irrelevant to Bill 21. He was talking about the NDP but nothing else. And now….
R. Chouhan: I'm not challenging. I'm just talking about…. I'm confused. I'm just seeking guidance.
Deputy Speaker: Member, continue your remarks, please, relevant to Bill 21.
R. Chouhan: I'm talking about Bill 21 and how relevant it is, because people are trying to find out how they can trust Bill 21 now when they could not trust Bill 29, with the promises the Premier made in the past. During that time, the Premier promised that they would not touch the health care workers collective agreement.
Is that what we are having here now under Bill 21 — another hollow promise made? At that time, the Premier said that at no time would the collective agreement be touched, but we know what happened shortly thereafter.
Point of Order
Hon. G. Abbott: Madam Speaker, you may have to, once again, reinforce the guidance which you've just very recently offered the speaker in relation to confining his remarks to second reading of Bill 21.
Deputy Speaker: Member, continue with remarks relevant to Bill 21, please.
R. Chouhan: Madam Speaker, we are talking about Bill 21. We are talking about sustainability. We are talking about relevance of the comments made by this minister in the opening comments. All I'm talking about, Madam Speaker, is that under Bill 21 what the minister is saying, what the government is saying…. You cannot trust it, as we could not have trusted them in the past.
It's a pattern we are talking about. We are talking about the history of the B.C. Liberal government. They have shown again and again and again that you cannot trust them. That's what we are talking about.
More than 8,000 people lost their jobs because of that hollow, wrong promise that the Premier made in the past. For those who were left, 15 percent of their wages were rolled back. So what's happening under sustainability? What's happening under reasonable access? So are the people now going to be asked…?
Maybe the minister can explain. What's reasonable access? Is it 70 percent, or is it 80 percent or 81 percent? How can we trust the reasonableness of this minister that we are going to hear in this Bill 21? The impact of that Bill 29 in the past, as it's going to be under Bill 21….
That was so much negative impact on people's lives. The hospitals were left dirty. The senior people with experience — who were providing that health care to the seniors, to the patients — were nowhere to be seen because they were fired under that system.
Now under Bill 21, what happens under reasonable access? Does this mean that because the taxpayers won't have the ability to pay, we would have less service — less than what we have had in the past? Those are the questions the minister has to explain and answer.
Everyone knows that the Bill 29 fiasco that we saw in the past was a colossal failure. We are going to see, I think, the same thing under Bill 21. Workers suffered; the quality of health care suffered. The seniors were not attended to. The food quality went down.
A few months ago my own brother-in-law had a serious accident, and he was taken to Royal Columbian Hospital. He had a massive head injury. After a day and a half, the doctors told us that they could not keep him alive, that they were going to pull the plug.
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We insisted: "Give us a second chance. Ask for a second opinion." After that, the second surgeon came, and he operated on it. My brother-in-law is living today.
What kind of reasonable access are we talking about? Under this sustainability, the reasonableness…? So people will be told again: "Sorry. We can't. We don't have a bed. We can't afford it. We are going to push you out?" What kind of system are we talking about?
Similarly, when we are talking about ability to pay…. I have heard that slogan so many times. I know. I come from the health care system. I was the director of collective bargaining. Every time I heard those words, "ability to pay" meant lower wages, more bad working conditions for workers. Similarly, when we are now hearing this phrase "ability to pay" under Bill 21, that would mean we would have less access to the public health care system, less services for patients and seniors.
Bill 21 talks about reasonable access. If we want to have a really sustainable kind of public health care system, then let's talk about how to make it sustainable. Let's talk about what's really needed. What are the elements that we have to look at so that we can help to make it sustainable? Show some respect to those who provide health care. Nurses are working in the system….
S. Fraser: I seek leave to make a late introduction, please.
Deputy Speaker: Proceed, Member.
Introductions by Members
S. Fraser: It gives me great pleasure to introduce students from, I think, Captain Meares Elementary Secondary School. That's in Tahsis. The member for North Island asked me to make the introduction today. My understanding is that there are 25 students, and that includes, I think, some parents — probably two. Sharon Parsey is the teacher.
I'd like everyone in this House to please make them feel very, very welcome.
R. Chouhan: Well, let's talk about sustainability. If you are really serious about having a sustainable public health care system, I think the first step would be to consult with those who provide health care — the nurses, the health care workers, the doctors.
The nurses that we met with yesterday told us that there is a shortage of 2,000…. There are 2,000 vacancies across B.C. Let's fill those vacancies first. They're overwhelmed, overworked. How can they provide the services that are desired under Bill 21 if they are not capable, if they don't have the capacity to provide those services?
In Abbotsford hospital there are nine operating rooms, but only six will be opened because of the shortage of nurses. So if we want to do what the minister is asking us to do, then look at those things. What is lacking in the system?
Let's talk about overcapacity at 120 percent. We have seen code oranges in the hospitals. That's not the way to sustain the health care system.
When the nurses are working overtime, when their workload is so heavy…. The nurses who are hired, the new nurses, to start their job, the orientation…. What they get is two hours on line — not real orientation, just two hours on line. They just go on and look at the system on the Internet, and they can orientate themselves. That's what Bill 21 is talking about, is going to do.
British Columbia is the first province to add sustainability in the provincial health legislation. The federal government has rejected the idea of adding sustainability to the Canada Health Act. In his 2006 throne speech the Premier signalled his intention to ask the federal government to amend the Canada Health Act to add the sixth principle of sustainability.
In a written e-mail Minister of Health Clement said: "The government does not intend to open up the Canada Health Act. We believe there is plenty of room for positive innovation within the current legislation." But I guess that message is not a good message for this government, for this minister.
They want to have their own sustainability to make it easy for their friends so that they can come through the back door, get more privatization, get more profit. That's what they want to do. They want to download the costs more and more onto the patients, onto the seniors, to make it difficult for an ordinary person to have this health care system when they need it, where they need it. It's a shame, what this government is doing.
This additional sixth principle, this sustainability, is a farce. It is an excuse to make public health care more costly for patients and seniors, to bring in privatization through the back door.
Look at what is happening at Royal Columbian Hospital. We have seen again and again people in the hallways. At Burnaby Hospital we have seen again and again people so crowded in the emergency ward, not attended to. They have been waiting for hours and hours. So how would this Bill 21 help those people who go to these hospitals and need help?
Earlier I mentioned the impact of Bill 29. What happened then is no different from what's happening now. Many of the services were privatized, contracted out. As a result, the private companies that had that contract laid off thousands and thousands of people — trained health care people, senior health care workers. They were unable to have those jobs.
I was just recently at Surrey Memorial Hospital visiting somebody, and I saw bloodstains in the elevator — a urine smell coming from the hallways. I saw the dirty laundry lying in the hallways on two floors. That's the impact of privatization under Bill 29.
Under Bill 21, how is it going to be different? The minister hasn't explained because he was so busy, in 70 percent of the remarks, just talking about the NDP. At
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no time was he able to talk and explain to British Columbians what the real meaning of sustainability is and what reasonable access is. At no time was he able to explain because they cannot explain that.
The public in British Columbia knows very well from past experience what it could mean, and that's why they're afraid. That's why they cannot trust this government.
Now, when Bill 29 was brought in and introduced, I was there. Prior to Bill 29, when the Premier came and met with our union, I was there. We recorded his meeting with us, with the Hospital Employees Union. We published his comments in our newspaper The Guardian.
We told him again and again and reminded him. He kept saying: "No, no. I'm not going to touch it." But then Bill 29 came. With that kind of history, how could you trust this government? One of the members who lost a job was 45 years old at that time, a single mother with two children — university-going children. When she lost her job, she could not send her daughter to university. She had to work.
That was the impact of Bill 29. A hundred nurses were impacted directly under Bill 29. Over 8,000 people lost their jobs. Now we have in front of us a new bill, Bill 21, and the government is asking us to just give them a blank cheque. Just believe them. They're going to just do it. They're better than the federal government. The federal government may not even know what…. You know, when they turned down the request to add the sixth principle….
I haven't seen any evidence that this minister or this government can do a better job than the federal government. I don't know. I haven't seen the evidence for why we have to add this so-called sustainability.
The time has come. Stop fooling people, because people are not going to be fooled. The time has come to be honest with the public, because people expect that. Sitting here talking about the health care system, the minister's effort to help their friends, the rich corporations, to bring in the kind of health care system that we have seen in the United States is not going to help anybody.
I stand here to oppose this bill, and my colleagues will be opposing this bill. I conclude my remarks by asking the minister to withdraw Bill 21. It's not going to help anybody.
L. Krog: I have a 15-month-old granddaughter. Before the members opposite start jumping up and saying I'm not speaking to the bill, I trust they'll listen to me for just a few minutes as I make my relevant point. When she gets to that wonderful stage where her grandpa can read to her, I want to read her The Three Little Pigs, because as you'll recall, in The Three Little Pigs there's this wonderful little scene where the wolf gets dressed up in sheep's clothing, where that which appears on the surface to be innocent is in fact anything but innocent.
When she gets a little older I might read her The Iliad. I'll read her about Troy and the Trojan horse and how they snuck it in — those crafty Greeks — and brought down the Trojan empire. In my view, essentially, that's what I see when I read the Medicare Protection Amendment Act. On the face of it, who in their right mind could be opposed to a piece of legislation that calls itself the Medicare Protection Amendment Act? That's like putting a bill before this House that says "we support our mothers act" and somebody standing up here and opposing it. Unbelievable that anyone could oppose it.
However, I have read this bill, and indeed I have read the remarks of the hon. Minister of Health in his introduction in second reading and his remarks which, frankly, seemed to be more of a diatribe attacking the New Democratic Party and its history than it did about dealing with the Medicare Protection Amendment Act. But as that song of Cher goes: "Words are like weapons. They can wound sometimes."
The fact is that you have to look at this bill. You have to actually read it to understand that the title hides, I believe, things that are…. I won't say insidious or sinister. I don't think the minister is deliberately trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes here, to go back to my sheep analogy.
But the fact is that courts interpret legislation. Courts review carefully the words that are spoken in this chamber and reduced to writing in the form of bills and acts. When the Lieutenant-Governor comes in here and assents to a piece of legislation, it has impact out there in the world. It isn't just the result of some funny exercise by a bunch of middle-aged folks in here screaming at each other across a few feet of red carpet. It has an impact.
Courts will look carefully at every word — every word — of this bill. They're going to have to interpret it in accordance with certain principles. Statutory interpretation says that headnotes and explanatory notes…. Courts don't pay much attention to that. The Attorney General knows that. He's had the opportunity on many, many occasions to interpret legislation.
I don't know if he's had a chance to speak to this bill in debate, but I'd love to hear his comments on the wording and what I have to say about statutory interpretation, because I think it would help illuminate this chamber if we heard from him. If he's already spoken, I apologize that I didn't have a chance to hear him.
When you read a statute, as the Supreme Court of Canada said in Rizzo and Rizzo Shoes Ltd., 1998, 1 SCR 27, for those who are interested in looking it up…. Essentially, that case says: "The words of an act are to be read in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the act, the object of the act and the intention of parliament." You can substitute "Legislature" there. It'll have the same impact.
The Interpretation Act, a statute passed by this Legislature and revised from time to time, says very clearly in section 9 that: "The title and preamble of an enactment are part of it and are intended to assist in explaining its meaning and object." I repeat: "…are intended to assist in explaining its meaning and object."
So if we go to the title, the Medicare Protection Amendment Act, one would assume it is designed to
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protect what every foreign reporter who knows anything about Canada will describe as, if you will, the most cherished value of Canadian society — a national public health care system; the crowning achievement, if you will, the child of T.C. Douglas and those brave CCFers in Saskatchewan who, against insurmountable odds, including all the money of the American Medical Association, fought to bring in a provincial health care system in the province of Saskatchewan that led to Canada's national medicare system.
You know, no one in this chamber could speak enough gratitude to the people who took the political risk to do that. I'd rather be here today commenting about how this government was actually doing something to protect medicare by this statute, but I don't see it.
The preamble in section 1 is going to be changed by striking out the term "public administration" and substituting "public administration and sustainability." So we go from public administration being so important in the preamble to it being read in conjunction with public administration and sustainability. To me, that means that they are equivalent, that a court will be required to interpret that part of the statute as having equal weight — both the public administration and sustainability.
Now, if there is ever a word that in the last few years has been thrown around in the public and probably little understood, it is the concept of sustainability. I think all of us understand that if we've got a credit card with a $5,000 limit and we keep spending and spending and spending, it's not sustainable. We'll get to a limit at some point. We understand that.
When we're talking about sustainability here, I think what the government's really trying to say is: "We want to be able to put a cap on medicare." That's what it's really saying. This isn't about protecting medicare or ensuring its full funding or ensuring its viability. This is, in fact, about putting a cap on health care spending.
The Interpretation Act, in section 8, says: "Every enactment must be construed as being remedial, and must be given such fair, large and liberal construction and interpretation as best ensures the attainment of its objects." What a court interpreting this change, if you will, is going to have to assume is that we're remedying something, we are solving some mischief, and it's to be given as fair, large and liberal a construction and interpretation as best ensures the attainment of its object.
What's important here is that, if you look further at the preamble…. The new preamble talks about a number of things which, frankly, I'm not sure the people of British Columbia can agree with. The preamble will now read: "Whereas the people and government of British Columbia are committed to building a public health care system…." Well, I rather thought we had a public health care system. I wasn't aware we had to build it. I thought we might improve it, expand it. But that's another matter for another day. It says: "…building a public health care system that is founded on the values of individual choice, personal responsibility, innovation, transparency and accountability."
Now, if you read them fairly quickly and you don't think much about them, they don't sound half bad — except we know that one of the great determinants of health is wealth. If you're poor, you're generally sicker. If you're poor, you generally don't get the kind of access to health care that you need.
To talk about personal responsibility…. If I'm an 87-year-old dementia patient, how am I going to exercise personal responsibility to take better care of my health? If I'm a three-year-old child living in a small, isolated northern community, is it my responsibility to get my inoculation? Is that one of the great commitments of the people of British Columbia? Is that something we really want to emphasize? Is that something we want the courts to read when they're interpreting this statute, when they're interpreting the Medicare Protection Act? Is that what we really want?
You know, I don't think so. I honestly don't think so. I don't think the members opposite have considered it in that light. Individual choice is something we'd all love to have in every aspect of our lives, but the minute we commit ourselves to living in communities, we will — if you believe in community — give up some of those choices, allow other choices to be made for us on occasion. We will share. Those are B.C. values — sharing, caring, but not individual choice, personal responsibility.
We like innovation. Many members on this side of the House have said: "Why doesn't this government start setting up the kind of clinics they did in the province of Alberta?" It's hardly an NDP haven. It's not a socialist bastion. Why don't you set up a clinic that's designed specifically to do with hip replacements? Run 'em through. It's efficient, saves the taxpayer money, gets the service done properly, and it's all administered, run and paid for under a public health care system in the province of Alberta.
The reason I want to emphasize that is because when it talks about transparency and accountability, I don't think anyone will disagree with the accountability part in this preamble. Accountability means you're going to be accountable. Where are you accountable? You're accountable in this chamber. You're accountable in the media. You're accountable on the election trail. You're accountable in your constituency office.
That's why, if we're going to be accountable, I need to hear from the Minister of Health what this sustainability concept means. What does individual choice mean? What does personal responsibility mean, particularly around the examples I've cited in this chamber today? How do you interpret that?
Whatever the minister has to say about his interpretation, which might illuminate the debate here, or other members of the government side, I wonder whether it will, in fact, represent the interpretation of the courts, because they approach things somewhat differently. Schofield v. Glenn, 1928, Supreme Court Reports, at 208: "In construction of legislation, the court must consider the mischief the legislation is intended to remedy, the provisions of the legislation as a whole and the particular language of the section in question."
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When the courts come to look at this, they're going to want to know what the mischief is. If the mischief is sustainability, what does that mean? Does that mean the court gets to say: "The provincial government isn't spending enough money on health care, and we order you to do so"? Or does that mean that the provincial government is entitled to say, within the context of a budget: "We've done the right thing, and we're going to get the courts to decide what the budget will be"? I don't know.
I just throw out the questions. That's my job here. That's the job of the opposition. I can't answer the questions necessarily, but I know the courts will. The courts are going to rely on cases and the case law that's been established for a long time. The city of Ottawa v. Hunter, 1900, 31 Supreme Court Reports, at page 7: "If the language of the law is changed, an intention to change the law is to be presumed."
So what's the change? What is the change that's occurring here? What will a court say is different as a result of the changes made by the Medicare Protection Act? I am fearful that what they will interpret that to mean is that government can either ration health care or make decisions that will have a negative impact on the delivery of public health care in this province. It's for that reason, among many others, that the opposition has real concerns about this.
You know, in Williams v. Box, 1910, 44 Supreme Court Reports, no surplus or meaningless words: "No part of an act should be treated as ineffectual or as mere surplusage if any other construction is possible." Again, the courts are going to look at this, and they're going to say that the Legislature intended to do something here. If I'd heard from the Minister of Health exactly what that was and understood it, I might even be supporting it. I wouldn't be asking questions. I'd be applauding, perhaps.
But in the absence of that explanation — and believe me, having read the minister's remarks, it is absent — I just have a very uncomfortable feeling that maybe my little analogy about this wolf in sheep's clothing and the wooden horse might have a little application here today. What we are talking about is a statute that could and will, I submit, have an incredible impact on health care in British Columbia, both in the management of the health care system and the delivery of the health care system.
Having given this tiny legal lesson…. I don't claim credit for all the wonderful research, by the way. I know the Attorney General would probably accept and acknowledge, of course, that every well-prepared lawyer has been backed up by somebody doing some wonderful research.
When you look at section 2 of the act, where it talks about the guiding principles, it reasserts:
"In performing its responsibilities and exercising its powers under section 5 (1) and in performing its responsibilities under section 5 (2), in addition to taking into account any broad policy issues" — boy, there's a barn door wide open, if I ever saw one — "and other matters the commission considers relevant, the commission must" — now, this is the good news; the commission must, and that's mandatory — "have regard to the following principles, as set out in sections 5.2 to 5.7: (a) the principles established under the Canada Health Act (Canada) as the criteria for a province to qualify for a full cash contribution for a fiscal year, those principles being" — and it simply recites them — "public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability and accessibility" — and then — "(b) the principle of sustainability."
Again, I come back to my earlier remarks. You've got subsection (a) where you jam all the old principles into one piece and then, to highlight the importance of sustainability, you give it its own subsection, subsection (b). Stands on its own, arguably. Equally important, perhaps, is the way a court will interpret it.
We're going to take the basic principles that Canada as a nation has agreed upon — public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability and accessibility — and stick them right up there only on equal footing, if you will, with the principle of sustainability.
It may come as a great surprise to the government…. People come into my office, and they complain about poor management, about privatization in the health care system. They complain about the government not putting the dollars where they should go. They complain about the solutions the government tries to impose. But you know, they don't question that it is the public's responsibility — through the province of British Columbia's government, through all of its taxpayers…. They don't question that it is its responsibility to sustain our medicare system. That's one thing they don't question.
So on one level, you've got to ask yourself: why state the obvious? Surely it is the government's responsibility to sustain medicare. That's pretty clear, I would have thought.
Section 5.2 goes on to say: "The plan is publicly funded and operated on an accountable basis." I'm not sure what that means — maybe gilding the lily a little more. I thought accountability was a pretty basic principle. Governments pass legislation. Opposition opposes. It gets implemented. You face the people in elections. People get to write, complain, speak to their Members of Parliament, speak to their MLAs, speak to their school trustees. That's the way the system works.
Again, what's the court going to do with that? How is the court going to interpret what that means?
The section that gives me probably the greatest concern is when we finally get down to sustainability. You know what? The courts aren't going to pay any attention to that heading "Sustainability." But under section 5.7, it says: "The plan is administered in a manner that is sustainable over the long term, providing for the health needs of the residents of British Columbia and assuring that annual health expenditures are within taxpayers' ability to pay without compromising the ability of the government to meet the health needs and other needs of current and future generations."
Now, I wouldn't wish a biblical plague on this province. No one would wish a biblical plague on this province, but let's just say we had the big disaster, some huge health care disaster. Is the government going to tell the people of British Columbia that there's a
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cap on what we're going to spend to save the population? Are they going to come back to this statute and say — and I'm reading the minister's words, because this is his bill: "…without compromising the ability of the government to meet the health needs and other needs of current and future generations"? Does this mean that we can't go into a deficit to meet a disaster?
I'm not old enough to have lived through the Second World War, but I've got to tell you that we all know that when duty called — when government had to step up to the plate, when the money had to be raised and the ships had to be built and the guns manufactured and the soldiers mobilized — nobody contemplated any limit on what was necessary to defend freedom and democracy.
That's what gives me real pause about this. If the government is telling us that they don't have the authority to control the spending of taxpayers' dollars now, I suggest they go back to basic poli-sci 101. They've got it. That's the way our system works.
You remember how the Clerk of the House always recites those wonderful terms when the budget has been passed. "In the name of Her Majesty, Her Majesty thanks her loyal representatives for their benevolence," I think is the phrase, to be precise. Well, their benevolence means the money. That's what we're talking about.
I'm very troubled by a statute that I think is going to potentially limit and allow the government to limit the spending of health care dollars in the best interests of the people of British Columbia. That's what I'm truly concerned about. When you balance it all off…. Looking at the language of section 5.7, it talks about ensuring that "annual health expenditures are within taxpayers' ability to pay."
The taxpayers' ability to pay isn't determined by government. You raise the tax rates; they pay more. You lower the tax rates; they pay less. That's the way you measure the ability of the taxpayer to pay. It's a determination the government makes.
There are many in this country who would argue that in the last ten or 15 years governments have perhaps been a little generous with those tax breaks, particularly to corporations and particularly with respect to higher-income earners, and that maybe we have, through our decisions, through our parliaments and our legislatures, made it more and more difficult — indeed, some might argue, almost impossible — to deliver on what is the greatest plan, scheme, that was ever devised by the government of Canada and the people of Canada, and that was public health care.
It is the one great value that some may question but that at any given time no one would ever see destroyed. Indeed, we have a population to the south of us, as The Economist reports in last week's issue, that has now finally accepted that they should have a national health care system. They may argue about whether it's going to be single-payer or co-insured or all that stuff, but they've finally figured out that as the last major democracy on the face of the planet that doesn't really have a public health care system, they should have one.
The opposition takes anything that might have the effect of destroying or impairing public health care very, very seriously. When you look at these words — and I come back to my point about the interpretation of language and what it means — this is exactly why the opposition is concerned. When it talks about the ability to pay, what exactly is a court going to do with that one? Is the court going to say that in any given budgetary year the government can't spend beyond that limit — that we've decided health care expenditures are capped, that this is as far as we go? It's quite possible, because courts are to interpret the language of the statute in a way that is seen to be remedial and that best ensures the attainments of its object.
So maybe in a given year a whole bunch of people are going to have to suffer because a court has interpreted the statute to mean that we've got to make sacrifices in this year because this very section talks about "the ability of the government to meet the health needs and other needs of current and future generations."
On the environmental side, I think we all love that concept — you know, thinking out several generations and how it is going to impact them. If we open up a copper mine next to a major salmon-bearing river, do we consider the future generations of the salmon stock or the first nations, whose lifestyle depends on it, whose very existence depends on it? Do we look at the fishing industry? All of those are great questions, but I don't think that as legislators we'd wish to place ourselves in a position where we would compromise the immediate concerns of individuals who require health care today for the sake of a seventh or eighth generation.
But when the government uses the language the "needs of current and future generations," I would submit — based on legal principle, based on the way courts have interpreted the law — that that's exactly what the courts may do. And governments will be able to get away with it. In my view, governments will be able, essentially, to potentially ration health care.
The government says — and we've heard it from the Minister of Finance and others — that the rationale for all of this is because health care costs are eating up more and more of the budget every year. Gosh, it's about 44 percent, and by 2013 it might consume 71 percent, and all of that guff. And it is guff.
The fact is that as a proportion of GDP, health care spending in B.C. was 7.4 percent in 2001-2002, and it decreased to 6.9 percent in 2006-2007. The fact is that as a percentage of GDP, we're spending less. So I have to ask myself why the government is bringing in Bill 21, the Medicare Protection Amendment Act, when in fact they're already, arguably — from the perspective which is the only true measure of the percentage of GDP — controlling health care expenditures overeffectively, I would say, from a fiscal perspective. In fact, we're spending less per GDP than we were five years ago.
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When you consider what this bill is supposed to do, and in the absence, as I said, of explanation, what exactly is the point then? Why are we adding sustainability? What does that mean?
We are not talking about a system that, with great respect to the government, is bankrupting the province of British Columbia. Last time I checked — thank heavens for great resource prices and a commodity boom and all of those good things and lots of construction — the budget's been in surplus for several years. So we know that it's not about that.
So what is it about? Section 3 will provide that, when it comes to health authorities, in exercising his authority "the minister must have regard to the principles set out in sections 5.2 to 5.7 of the Medicare Protection Act." What that section, that amendment, does is establish provincial standards for health services and specifying health services and level of health services to be provided in a region of the province.
I'm afraid that what this bill does is do anything but protect medicare. What this bill does is open a legal opportunity for the government — and a government to be supported by the courts — in fact, in attacking public health care in the province of British Columbia. I think, unfortunately, that my little Trojan horse and my wolf in sheep's clothing may, in fact, be far closer to the truth than anyone in this chamber would want to believe.
My concern is that this is exactly what the opposition smells it to be, something that is going to be harmful to the health care system in British Columbia, harmful to British Columbians. It is for that reason that the opposition will fight this bill, will continue to fight this bill and, if this bill passes, will continue to remind British Columbians, when the damaging impact of it is felt in their communities, that the government of British Columbia, the B.C. Liberals, brought this in over the opposition's objections, over an opposition that's doing the right thing for British Columbians and opposing this bill.
I am delighted to cede my place in this debate to other members who, I know, are anxious as well to speak out on behalf of the many British Columbians who respect and value public health care.
Deputy Speaker: Seeing no more speakers.
Hon. G. Abbott: I rise to close the debate.
R. Fleming: I appreciate the minister's patience, because I know there are other members of the Legislature that also want to speak to this legislation this afternoon. It's second reading debate here.
I would suspect that next week we will have third reading debate that will be just as strenuous. Members will be able to look clause by clause and ask questions of the minister about his intentions of this bill, because he hasn't been absolutely clear on the reasons for why he's submitting this legislation. Nor is it even clear whether it's his idea to be presenting this legislation.
The timing is also very odd. There is absolutely no political support for this in this confederation of provinces. The national Minister of Health also has absolutely panned the idea to add a so-called sixth principle to medicare.
You know, of all the things that our nation, as divided as it is regionally and by founding nations and all of the context into making up Canada…. We search for national consensus on many things, and often we fail.
The one area where this country of ours has managed to find a solid, enduring consensus in the modern context of our nation coming out of World War II is around the idea that we will build a system of health care that looks after every Canadian, no matter where they live. We put to that five core principles that have endured over four decades, that define and outline our commitment to that.
So important has that consensus been, so precious, because it is rare among other political constructs in the confederation of our country. So important is that consensus that indeed it's been commented on by those who observe Canada's political culture and those who study Canadians and their political behaviour. Indeed, the very identity of Canadians and of our country as a modern nation, has, in large part, a central relationship to medicare and to health care.
It's interesting, as we watch the American political process currently and listen to some of the things that are being debated by the two parties and by various candidates in this U.S. election season, that again Canada comes up an awful lot in that discussion. People look north to what we have built. People comment on what opportunities weren't taken when America had perhaps its best opportunity to produce a universal health care system, in the New Deal era in the 1930s, and the price of the failure to do that.
The price was that America did not take its place among civilized western nations that have a health care system that is universal and that is guaranteed to take care of its own citizens. What they have now is a private system that is among the most expensive, that drains the largest percentage of GDP of any nation among the OECD countries. They have a system that is not universal. In fact, it doesn't even cover 50 million Americans. It underinsures tens of millions more.
Some of the stories that are coming out of the United States about people who can't get treatment for serious chronic illnesses — cancer, among others — are heartbreaking. When you look at statistics around infant mortality…. It is because the Americans, our cousins to the south, did not take the opportunity to produce a system like Canada's. That is why this system we have is so worth defending, and that's why it has been defended for over four decades by governments of all political stripes in every province across Canada.
It's interesting. In seeking to make an amendment here to the Medicare Protection Act, the implication is that it would be done nationally. That's why the Minister of Health travelled to Ottawa to have that discussion with his counterpart. Nobody is talking about this. In fact, most political leaders have the same
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concerns that the opposition is voicing here today, that British Columbians are voicing.
They see the attempt to use what my colleague from Nanaimo who just spoke described as a very imprecise and much bandied-about term. The word "sustainability" can be taken to mean almost anything. They see that as a loaded term. Because it is a loaded term, it is a dangerous thing to enshrine as a so-called new principle.
When you look at the five principles that have served us well over the last 40 years — public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability and accessibility…. When you look at those principles and you ask yourself how this so-called sixth principle might stack up and interrelate with those other five principles, you can well ask some very hard questions that have not been answered by the introduction of this legislation today.
The principle of comprehensiveness. Well, that could very easily, by a government that was seeking to delist services, cut back the comprehensiveness of health care, as this government has done in recent years…. We know a number of examples where that has occurred.
This so-called principle of sustainability could collide and take precedence over the principle of comprehensiveness, which has basically been a living principle within medicare that has allowed us — as new technology, new therapies, new ways to treat, manage and prevent disease have become discovered by the research community, by the medical community — to change over time.
Don't forget that in the 1940s, when medicare was introduced in Saskatchewan, it was a very limited form of coverage at that time. It has become more comprehensive over time. It is helped, in part, because that is one of the five core principles within the legislation that governs our health care system. Introduce something called sustainability, which can easily have all kinds of abusive statistics attached to it, all kinds of fears, all kinds of fiscal objectives that run counter to providing good health care for Canadians, like cutting taxes….
Does that sound familiar to anyone — when those become greater political priorities than ensuring that people have health care services? I think even the government described it quite well, "When they need it and where they need it," at one point in time. That was a very good slogan, one that has not been delivered upon. That is why people are suspicious of both the timing and the intentions of Bill 21.
I want to speak a little bit about other aspects of the bill in terms of its potential impact but also some of the things that are attached with it. I called it a loaded term, the word "sustainability" and some of the dangers it may present to its insertion into the five principles of medicare and how it may potentially contradict or take precedence over things that we have relied on, things that define our health care system and make it unique — like universality, portability and accessibility.
[S. Hammell in the chair.]
I think that in this bill the only thing that is being offered as to what motivates the government to be providing it is the doomsday scenario that they put out there in advance of the Conversation on Health. I think people will recall readily that the Minister of Health put out some numbers in a discussion paper that was supposed to focus, I suppose, in her words — maybe "skew" is others' definition — on what that conversation should focus on…. And that was the claim that health care costs in B.C. are hopelessly skyrocketing.
What the numbers that were put out and what the discussion was intended to be focused on was to look at very fearful scenarios where health care spending would grow over time as a portion of the provincial budget. Now, that has happened in both directions in recent decades. What is unique about that…. Because this is really the only manifestation we have of the rationale this government has to introduce sustainability here as a principle in this bill. It's to buttress this argument that it made several months ago in advance of the Conversation on Health. What it does is it abandons what have been more traditional indicators about health care.
I mentioned a few moments ago that in the United States one way to judge whether that system is effective is to look at who it covers. It doesn't cover every citizen. In fact, it excludes tens of millions.
The other way to measure whether the United States health care system is effective is to look at the percentage of gross domestic product that is consumed of that country's wealth every year. It is significantly — sometimes 50 percent — higher than Canada, than France, than the United Kingdom, than most western democracies that have a system closely designed and in accordance with our model, not theirs.
The Economist, the World Health Organization, most health economists typically look at how a system performs and whether it is sustainable for its public by looking at what percentage of total wealth generated in the economy of that jurisdiction is consumed by health care. In the case of British Columbia, that has not changed significantly. In fact, it has decreased under this government, interestingly.
But here we have a government saying that health care is spiralling out of control and is unsustainable. Let's not forget, Madam Speaker. This is a government that during its tenure in office — and now, you know, we're at close to the end of a second term, a second mandate for this government — it has slid. British Columbians' spending in health care per capita has slid from second to seventh among Canadian provinces. The percentage of health care spending relative to GDP, as I mentioned, has decreased.
Here we have alarm bells and suspect legislation being put over to British Columbians to suggest that their system is unsustainable, that they can't potentially rely in future on their rights to have good care and coverage, to have health care in their communities, to have appropriate treatment for ailments they may have.
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I mean, the feature of our system is that we ensure against things that we can't control, that are beyond our destiny and that happen as life happens. That's what makes Canada a civilized nation — that we do take care of each other, of people who have ailments or serious accidents. Things happen to them, beyond their control, which need medical attention and care, sometimes very intensive levels of care. Sometimes it's related to aging itself, and very often it is, in our system, with the demographic trends being what they are in British Columbia and Canada.
The implication of this bill is the suggestion that British Columbians should somehow prepare themselves to accept that that notion — that central core understanding, that point of common identity in Canada and B.C. — may be coming to an end. Well, we don't agree with that.
That's why members on this side of the House have been expressing their concerns here during second reading. That's why we will make suggestions during committee stage of the bill, because the concern is real. The concern is real that over time this so-called principle being inserted into medicare, the Medicare Protection Act in British Columbia, will be taken as a justification and a rationale to curtail British Columbians' rights to have good health care, to again look at delisting more and more services.
It may be taken as the excuse, the entry point for further privatization of core elements of our health care system. We have seen unprecedented outsourcing and private intrusion and the introduction of for-profit services within health care under this government, more than any other government in Canadian history. Think of the services, the health care teams in our hospitals, whose employees now report to private employers. Think of the construction, operation and management of facilities themselves that in B.C. are now being planned, designed and financed by private interests. Some of them are pharmaceutical companies, who are putting together consortiums to make these bids.
It's odd that B.C. is doing this now, and in 2006 they made virtually every hospital project in B.C. absolutely required to be a public-private partnership. This is happening now in British Columbia, after the experience in other countries that suggests that that experiment has not made their health care systems more sustainable but, quite the opposite, has taken resources away from patients, from quality health care, and put it towards cost overruns, put it towards the costly expense of private borrowers, interest rate fluctuations, construction overruns and delays of coming on stream.
The U.K. probably went further than any other country in Western Europe and in this hemisphere that has a system like ours in making that kind of procurement a central part of its health planning. They have warned the world not to do it.
I acknowledge that that was a Labour government in part — Conservative and Labour governments, successively — that did that. Those governments have said, "Look, we had tried to do things more sustainably by using this method of procurement," but they — their own corporation, Partnerships U.K.; their Auditor General; and their health care community — have also issued a warning to Canadians and to others: "Be careful what you're copying here."
They have also reformed within their own country. They have pulled back and said: "You know, when we build new regional facilities, in the north or the south of England or in any region of the country, the public sector comparator, the way that those projects and those health care facilities are going to be built is going to be public again." They have learned a very costly lesson that while they have an increased spending in the National Health Service, resources went to companies owning, managing and building facilities instead of to patient care. They have been unsatisfied with the results around the health of ordinary British people.
R. Fleming: The minister is trying to say something over there.
There's another attached question, I suppose, for discussion to this bill, which is around what changes under the cover, again, of using — abusing — the word "sustainability," what kind of system we might be moving towards should this government be permitted to make changes to billing or funding, for example.
We have had a system in B.C. that probably could use change. There have been a lot of criticisms over the years about how we pay physicians and how service is delivered, how costs are controlled within medicare and how reimbursements are supplied.
That is probably where this legislation will first be taken, as a new statute that will enable a government to claim it has a mandate to pursue something that British Columbians have said time and time again — and they said during this government's conversation on health care — that they don't want.
They don't want less health care. They want efficient, good health care that is available, that doesn't have onerous wait-lists and that is responsive. They want the government to exercise its role in stewarding, protecting and ensuring that the system that they have come to know and rely on and that we have built our country on in the modern post-war era…. They want that to continue. I think the suggestion in this legislation….
J. Brar: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
J. Brar: Visiting us today from the city of Surrey in the riding of Surrey–Panorama Ridge are 27 grade 4 students from W.E. Kinvig School. They're accompanied by their teacher. I will ask the members to make them feel welcome.
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R. Fleming: I want to go back to the government's credibility and why people are suspicious of the intent of this legislation, or the content of the bill.
There have been a number of people who worked in health care and who have lived with the consequences of Bill 29 — legislation this government brought in, in its last term of office — which abrogated written agreements and broke contracts with tens of thousands of health care workers. That was after the government had said in the election that under no circumstances would it dishonour written agreements of the government.
This has been internationally condemned on several occasions by the International Labour Organization. It has been a saga that has taken many twists and turns along the way, and recently the court rulings obligated the minister to withdraw core sections of that legislation.
You know, if this government is asking ordinary people in my constituency to trust them that they have good intentions in this legislation, that this sixth principle is really in their interests and in the interests of their families…. I think of a lot of people who are experiencing the health care system right now feel that it has been non-responsive to their issues. I think back to Bill 29, because that really was a tragic and shocking episode in B.C.'s history and in this government's legacy.
In my constituency I talked to people who lost homes. They experienced family breakups. They had incredible mental health stresses. Some of them who were dismissed summarily from their jobs became users of the mental health care system.
You know, there were some watchdogs within the health care system — including our own region's chief medical officer, Dr. Richard Stanwick — who said: "Don't do this. By disrespecting and summarily dismissing tens of thousands of health care workers, you will actually create negative demand on your own health care system."
That's exactly what happened. People's health actually declined — people who lived in this community and worked in the health care system. That's a fairly significant section of any constituency in terms of the percentage of their workforce. And that happened.
I think of what this government can mean in terms of sustainability, in terms of an experience the capital region is having with the Royal Jubilee Hospital. In 2001 one of the first things this government did was bring in a capital freeze for health care. Then they said: "Oh, health authorities can fund capital by finding savings within the health care system." In other words, by squeezing operations, you could keep some of that money and use….
I mean, what a way to do capital planning. Not only is it unsound from an accounting perspective; it has seriously challenged the sustainability of people's reliance and interest in having good health care. There was a capital freeze in 2001, and that put that Royal Jubilee intake tower on hold, where it remained for six long years.
When we were going to build a new intake tower in 2001-2002, approximately, on the capital schedule, it was going to be a facility in excess of 600 beds. After five years of waiting and after the government announced in 2006 that any capital construction project in B.C. worth over $20 million must be a public-private partnership, today the Royal Jubilee intake tower will have less than 500 beds.
Think of the population growth. Think of the aging society we've had. We've had serious increases in demand on health care services, and this is a regional facility for the entire Island, which begs another question. It's unrelated, and I won't get too far into it, but it begs the question as to why local taxpayers pay 40 percent of that capital project when in Metro Vancouver they don't pay anything.
When residents from Campbell River, or others, come down and use the cancer…. We welcome those patients to come. We welcome….
R. Fleming: The government pays 100 percent for some capital projects in the Lower Mainland. I know that the minister for the convention centre just spoke up in favour of that, because he seems to have no problem funding all kinds of billion-dollar projects in the Lower Mainland, even though he represents an Island constituency. He doesn't seem to find much for capital projects closer to his own constituents.
But that's a question. Less than 500 beds now at Royal Jubilee for that intake tower. Rising costs — now the project is over $325 million. Just think of the costs of the delay so far, for six years, by having the capital policies for health care that the government did. Think of the costs that accumulated during that time. That is exactly why the unsustainable management practices of this government have created the situation and the substandard project that we're going to have — the underbuilt project, the overcosted project that we are going to pay for at the Royal Jubilee Hospital.
It's interesting the way that the federal Health Minister received this idea. They were asked to come on board by this government. The Premier said, "This is a great idea. I've had it for many years" — or maybe the minister said it on his behalf — and asked the federal Health Minister to open that debate nationally. You know what he said? He said: "No way. We have a national consensus on medicare. Canada has agreement on this. All of the provinces do. Not interested." He was interested in seeing innovations, in seeing funds, which this government has benefited from following the Romanow report, to bring in health care transfers that were unheard of in the 1990s.
Remember the 1990s? I know this is the favourite topic of members opposite. Remember the federal transfer cuts to health care? Remember the federal cuts to transfer payments? They were the official opposition then, and they cheered it. They said: "Great. We'll make do with less." They ran in 1996 and said: "We'll have a
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health care system that is capped." They lost that election.
Now they're saying to British Columbians in Bill 21 that we're going to put a cap, in the name of sustainability, on health care for British Columbians. They will reject that again. They did before. They've loved the largesse from the federal government, thanks to Roy Romanow and even thanks to Paul Martin.
I'll give credit to a Liberal here, who rebalanced and implemented some of the recommendations of that report. That was talking about sustainability. That was talking about the suitability of federal and provincial joint contributions to having a world-class health care system. We've had billions of extra dollars coming to B.C. every year for the past several years. That opposition, now government, urged Ottawa to cut health care spending and said: "We have to put a cap on it."
Now they're bringing that concept back, which British Columbians rejected time and time again, under a new guise, under an obscure, almost trendy green cover. Sustainability apparently covers every concept of public policy in the gamut now. They're trying to sneak it in as a sixth principle for the Medicare Protection Act, which will, as I said earlier, absolutely contradict and put at risk some of the five core principles of medicare.
It will put into question…. Maybe it will be the subject of costly court interpretations of what "comprehensiveness" means. Maybe it will limit — and this government probably hopes it will — the ability to expand and provide new services that save lives or improve quality of life for British Columbians.
Maybe it will allow them to say, "Universality is too expensive now, and we should modify that concept," or that portability is different. We're moving out of step with other provinces. Portability between provinces has been a core concept of medicare. Maybe this is the first step in that direction — that we are declaring ourselves out of step with the rest of Confederation. Thank you for the time to speak against this.
N. Simons: It gives me pleasure to add my concerns to the debate on Bill 21, which should be something that the public of British Columbia has high on their mind, because I think it is an attempt — in one way or another, in one stealthy form or another — to change what we have come to know, understand, respect and admire about our own health care system here in Canada.
It's a debate about Canadian values, values that have been nurtured and developed over generations. Our forefathers, and the people who were here first, understood the need for looking after each other and for making sure that we were all healthy and that we benefited from other peoples' health.
Here we have a bill, Bill 21, which on the face of it might sound like nice flowery words. When you look any further into it, you realize that it appears to be an attempt to reduce and undermine the principles that have been at the basis, the foundation, of our health care system here in Canada.
I speak about Canadian values, because that's one thing that is so wonderful about the Canadian health care system. Our health care system is something that is universal — if I live in Nova Scotia, if I live here or if I live in the Northwest Territories.
I believe that what we have here in Bill 21…. By the addition of a word, we have a reduction of the effectiveness of a system. By the addition of a word that most people would say is a positive-sounding word, we have a stealthy attempt to actually reduce the impact of the rest of the legislation that allows us to enjoy some of the best health care, in the OECD anyway.
I'm worried about this act. I'm worried about what it's doing and the stealth with which it has been presented to the people of British Columbia, the paucity of answers, the lack of information, the twisting of words or the hiding from questions about this act, which cause me to be even more suspicious of the true intent of government by introducing legislation to amend medicare protection.
We need to protect medicare, and everything about medicare protection should be about increasing the protection we have of our medicare system. Of course, the fundamental principles, we all know, are public administration, comprehensiveness, portability, accessibility and universality. With the addition…. For those who aren't quite sure what we're talking about here, the government has introduced another one of these concepts. It's their own. It's theirs to define. It's theirs to interpret, and it's theirs to keep to themselves, because we don't know what that sixth so-called pillar really means.
What is sustainability? If you say it on the street, people say: "Oh, everyone's talking sustainability." It means something different to every single person. It sort of sounds like it means something that will be positive and that it will ensure that what we have is sustained. But in this particular case, there doesn't seem to be much logic in introducing sustainability when it will only potentially mitigate the effectiveness or the strength of public administration; when it will only impact negatively on the comprehensiveness; when it will only have an impact, as well, on the universality, portability and accessibility of our health care system.
I'm concerned, and I believe and I think the general public also believes that it has been introduced because government has created this fear that what we have — and what we've provided to our children and what our grandparents have worked hard to ensure we had — was in some way at risk. In other words, when they sell fear that we can't continue with what we're doing and they use numbers that are false or made up or imagined, people will be fearful. If they are fearmongers, people will purchase fear.
I want to say that it is only one side of this House that's selling the fear. The other side of the House is saying: "We know what you're concerned about."
We're hoping that in this House we'll have an opportunity to perhaps change what are otherwise minds that are closed like steel traps. What we want to do is introduce, perhaps, some doubt into the minds of some of the members opposite that this might be a good idea.
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My concern, of course, after today, with respect to the introduction of legislation, is that maybe cabinet doesn't really know what's in this bill. Maybe they signed off on it. The Premier signed off on it. Everybody they "consulted with" — in quotation marks, of course — maybe agreed with it, so they just signed off on it and went ahead with it.
Well, my opportunity to perhaps illustrate to those members of government who may not have been paying attention to this bill — the way they weren't paying attention to the aboriginal authorities act or other bills that have slipped through here or have fallen off the desk at the end of a session….
Maybe my opportunity to talk to the government here in this chamber will give them an opportunity to reflect and question whether maybe they should have abandoned this at the last minute, like they did the legislation yesterday. Wouldn't that have been a good opportunity to raise our hands in thanks to government? But no, they've decided to continue it. They've decided to push forward with what is being interpreted by many, and rightfully so, as the beginning of an attack on medicare.
It's the beginning of what they would like to see — the infringement or the gradual dissolution of what we have had in this province, in this country. I'm speaking about Canadian values — values that people in other provinces will understand during this debate, should they be interested in what's happening here on the west coast.
I believe that people in this province will look at this legislation and say: "Who thought this up? Who put the mushiest words into legislation? Shouldn't legislation be about defining and being precise and allowing people to interpret and understand this?" This is what we call a mushy word. It's a word that has a meaning for one person that is entirely different for another person.
We don't know, as legislators…. We aren't being told by the minister, who may have had some input in the writing of this, may — I might add — have had some input in the writing of this act…. He signed off on it, though, just like he signed off on the other legislation, which was thrown out the window at the last minute, luckily. That would have been a good idea for this too. Here we have an opportunity to maybe enlighten some of the members of government that they might have made a mistake.
Are they representing the values of the people in their communities when they say that they want to do something that will interfere with the universality of health care? Are they signing off on a new term to be added to the act that will potentially reduce the universality of medicare? Do they know that? Do the people in their communities realize that? And even if they have a question, what is the government intending with this legislation? What is their intention?
Maybe they're curious. Maybe they think these guys are sort of nice. You know, they don't growl at you in the supermarket or anything, but even if they're asked…. Oh, I'm saying that they don't growl at you in the supermarket, but I shouldn't presume, actually.
However, should there be a nice relationship with a particular member of the Legislative Assembly in some other part of this province and you approached them and said: "What's this Bill 21? What's this sustainability thing? It sounds good. Is it really that good?" "Trust us; we know it's good. Trust us. It just doesn't mean really anything. We didn't really have to do it in the first place, you know. That's how important it is. So don't worry. Go back to the canned foods section, and I'm just going to continue on here with the pork."
Hon. G. Abbott: My stomach is growling, listening to this description.
N. Simons: I'm glad I'm making the minister hungry. However, that is not my intention. My intention in this House is to explain as best I can to members in this House, as well as to people at home, that what we are debating in this House is legislation that is going to impact on our understanding of the health care system as it exists.
The introduction of sustainability came out of thin air, much like a lot of their legislation, quite frankly. But in this particular case, it's a little bit more…. Is the word insidious? Because it's potentially problematic, and we're not even able to find out how problematic it is. Is this one of those "Trust us, we know best"?
Well, they knew best when they introduced other legislation which, thankfully, has disappeared. They knew best with Bill 29 as well. The courts gave them a little slap on the hand on that, but that slap on the hand was nothing compared to the lost jobs in this province and the kids whose parents weren't earning the income that they previously had and were not able to do what they used to be able to do because their parent might have had a good job in the health care system. That was thrown out. That was Bill 29, another bad idea.
So we know from the history of this government's actions that so much of their legislation is destructive. It's not constructive; it's destructive. So in this particular case when we have a bill…. It makes it worse that it's gilded in this fancy kind of terminology of sustainability. But what it really is, is perhaps a thin edge of the wedge. Perhaps it gives the minister or the cabinet some more input into how we can reduce the services to British Columbians when it comes to medicare.
I'd like to know, because people in my community want to know if this is going to make it more likely that we're going to be able to maintain a healthy system. I'd say that no, it isn't. We shouldn't be buying the fearmongering. We shouldn't be purchasing the fearmonger's wares, which is fear, because we know better.
We know they use numbers like 71 percent of the budget in 2007, or '17 I think, and we know that's not true. Who is saying that kind of number? Why were they saying that number? Why were they spreading that around to people in this province, saying that unless we do something about medicare, we're all in trouble?
Then they conjure up this idea to go travelling across the province to talk to people. Well, in this beautiful province they talked to a few thousand people,
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none of whom were saying: "Introduce another pillar into the Medicare Protection Act." Nobody was saying that, but somehow those conversations justified this action. Somehow they connected two dots that were unrelated, put them together, and they had a line. Their line was, "We need to put sustainability into the act," and they don't. They don't need to, and the fact that they want to do it anyway only heightens my concern.
The cost of health care is something that we as British Columbians understand is what contributes to the quality of life that we have here in British Columbia. Businesses are by far, or in many cases, attracted to British Columbia because of the strong social supports that we have enjoyed.
We've seen the dissolution of so many social programs, and we see such evidence of it on the streets of our cities and even in our rural communities. You know, the destructive potential…. We need to look at this act and say: "Well, if you can imagine a less benevolent government being in power, how would they interpret sustainability?" That's the perspective that we as legislators are required to take in this Legislature. We're supposed to look at the long-term impacts of the legislative changes, not just how we're going to use it.
Even if the minister could think of a reason why he put sustainability — ill-defined or undefined sustainability — into this act, even if he could give us an explanation, we will always wonder how this act will be interpreted and enforced. We know that in this particular case, it can only take away from the universality, the comprehensiveness, the portability and the accessibility of health care. That causes me concern.
It causes me concern, as well, that this kind of issue is sometimes difficult for the general public to pay a lot of attention to. It may not be on the page of the newspaper that they usually read, but every single person in the province should be concerned because of the impact of this legislation. We should be trying to make sure that the legislation we pass is good legislation.
I just have to say that this is bad legislation because it's not clear. It's bad legislation because it doesn't tell us what it's going to do. It's bad legislation because not only does it not tell us what it's going to do, but the minister who may have had some part in writing it doesn't know what it's going to do. He hasn't been telling us what it's going to do.
It's our job to ask the questions. Apparently, it's not his job to answer. My colleagues on this side of the House have been asking questions about this. We haven't been getting any answers.
So yes, we're suspicious, and we should be because we've seen their history. We've seen what they've done in other areas. We've seen what they've done to other social programs, and we know the impact they've had in other areas. But we also know that their way of writing legislation, the internal mechanism which they use to write legislation, is faulty.
We saw evidence of that yesterday. We saw evidence of legislation, five minutes before it got to the floor, being thrown out. Everybody signed off on it. Everybody thought it was great. Everybody nodded, or whatever they did, to say: "Yeah, go ahead." Put a checkmark at the top right corner of the front page.
Take a look deeper. Find out if maybe this is something that you don't even know how to define yourselves. If you're going to write a piece of legislation, it should have some sort of goal clearly stated. But this doesn't, so we have to make sure.
We realize that they can use this legislation. They can use it as a tool that will impact the community in a negative way. As a colleague of mine likes to say: "You can use a hammer to build a house or to tear one down." Well, in legislation like this, I question whether they're using this legislation to strengthen our medicare or to make it worse, make it cheaper.
They try to cheapen every kind of social program, cut everything down to the bone. What have you got? You've got weaker protections for children, weaker protections for elders, weaker protection for families, for parents, for workers. That's the potential in this act, and we haven't heard any answers to make us feel any better. No one has assuaged any of our fears.
My concern is that maybe it's intentional. Maybe it is intentional. Maybe, unlike the other legislation they passed because they haven't looked at it…. You know, the Decider probably wrote those.
But in this case we are asking questions about it. We're saying: "Who's making the decision to reduce the strength of our health care system?" Ultimately, that's what's happening. This little clause, paragraph (b)…. In section 5.1(b) it says: "the principle of sustainability."
The principle of sustainability. I have my principle of sustainability. My colleagues have their principles of sustainability. Apparently, the minister on the other side might have a principle of sustainability. Why doesn't he tell us it? Why doesn't he tell us what he means when he introduces this legislation in the House?
Instead, what I heard in his speech…. I know he'll be flattered, and I know he'll be honoured, but I listened to a lot of it. A lot of it was history lessons, history lessons from long before I ever paid any attention — like so much that I hear from the other side of this House. I hear history lessons.
I think I was 12 then, when that happened. "That's neat. Uncle, tell me some more stories." But here we've got a story, and it's called Bill 21, and I'm thinking that I don't want any more of your stories. You know, we have a problem here. We have a disconnect here.
Hon. G. Abbott: That's hurtful.
N. Simons: Without being asked, I'd like to set a precedent in this House. Without being asked, I withdraw the hurtful remark. I don't remember which one was hurtful. It certainly wasn't intended to be hurtful.
My colleague next to me appears to have a statement to make.
J. Brar: I seek leave to make an introduction.
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Introductions by Members
J. Brar: Visiting us today, we have another group of students from W. E. Kinvig School in the beautiful city of Surrey, from the riding of Surrey–Panorama Ridge. I ask the members to make them feel welcome.
N. Simons: I understand that I have 37 minutes left. Leave is granted for 37 minutes. I think this is an important debate, and we all really should be paying a lot of attention to it, not just to the questions that we rightfully ask, but to the answers they don't give. We should be paying attention. You can't really hear an answer if it's not given, but you can hear perhaps what the intention is behind that lack of answer.
Perhaps it's a scheme to privatize. While we've seen that in the past, as well, there's no reason…. I have not seen any evidence to suggest that we should assume that this is a benevolent addition to the legislation. We should not assume, based on factual evidence — the evidence that this government has shown us with their actions over the last six or seven years.
We shouldn't default to the position that this is a benevolent or neutral addition to legislation. In fact, looking at precedent, we should assume that it's probably an effort to reduce the four principles that we have enshrined that concern this particular issue: the comprehensiveness, universality, the portability and accessibility of medicare — the fact that it is publicly administered as well. We should assume that by adding "(b) the principle of sustainability," it's got a sort of carte blanche.
It's almost like notwithstanding. Notwithstanding all this, we're going to do sustainability first. Notwithstanding the importance of universality, we're going to say sustainability is primacy. Notwithstanding the comprehensiveness, we're going to mitigate the strength of that word by saying that sustainability trumps it.
We need a better explanation from government. We deserve a better explanation from government on what the purpose of this legislation is. What is the intent? What is the intent of this legislation? Is the intent to say that we all want everything good to last forever? Is that it? Is that to make us all feel that it's going to be looked after now because we all want things to last? Or is it…?
Someone called them weasel words. Sustainability is an important word, and it's a word that has been…. It's almost a word that you find everywhere. Sustainability — it's important. But when it's used wrong, it can be an ugly word, because it could reduce…. It could impinge on the strengths that we have in our medicare protection system. In that case, that word isn't a good word. That word is the beginning of what could be a challenge to keeping our public health care system strong.
My concern, as I have expressed, is that in the absence of an explanation from government, it doesn't deserve to be passed. It does not deserve to be passed in this Legislature without an explanation for what its intent is — a clear explanation, not a flowery, over–public relationed kind of explanation. I'd like it to be written by someone who understands, and I don't know if that person is even in the House.
However, I wouldn't be able to say if they were anyway. However, in this particular case, I'd like an explanation that would satisfy me and satisfy my constituents that this government is not trying to incrementally dismantle our medical system, our care system.
N. Simons: Oh, I am looking forward to committee stage. We look forward always for an opportunity to engage in a healthy debate. We always look forward, and we hold on to that hope. We clutch to the hope, the dream, that perhaps the answers will be forthcoming.
N. Simons: Hope does, in fact, spring eternal.
Unfortunately, the patience of people in this province and the patients in this province need more than just hope. They need to be sure, and they need to be assured that this government doesn't have intentions that will impinge on our ability to get good health care. In the absence of the evidence to the contrary, the legislation shouldn't be passed in this House.
You vote for it, and you're voting against what I believe is the fundamental Canadian value of universality, of medical care for those who need it — not just words, not vacuous statements that sound nice and would be good lyrics in a song, but actual explanations of what exactly this government means by sustainability.
Bill 21 as it stands right now is, at the least, problematic. Government has been trying to explain the reasons for introducing this legislation. It has to do with cost. So sustainability is about reducing cost.
How is sustainability going to be used to justify the curtailment of services to people? It's going to be used, and it's going to be twisted. It's going to be mischaracterized, perhaps, as I believe it has been. I don't mean that in a negative way, but I do believe that the public has not been fully informed as to the intention of government.
As I say, if we are to use the past history of this government and the conclusions that we've reached in assessing what they've done in the past, I can't help but think that the young kids who are in the audience in this House aren't going to have the same access to health care as we do now. That is the main concern that I have with this legislation.
The other concern, of course, is that I don't think that enough thought has gone into it, that it's the idea of the Decider. I think the Decider went on his little cross-province trip, talking to people and perhaps listening on occasion. I don't know who the Decider was listening to when he found this little concept. It sounded like a good idea, perhaps, but it doesn't mean
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that it should go into an act. It doesn't mean that it should go into legislation — because it sounds good.
Maybe somewhere there should be a policy on the minutiae of sustainability, but I don't believe that empty or ill-defined words belong in legislation, and I think that as legislators we should point out the flaws in legislation. We should point out that some legislation needs amendment and some legislation needs defeat.
I respectfully submit that Bill 21 needs to be defeated.
D. Routley: I rise to speak against Bill 21. I think many reasons have been given here, many very good reasons. I'm afraid that I'll be covering some of them again for the benefit of the minister and the benefit of the government, in the hope that they might think about what they're about to do and actually step back and take a sober second look at what British Columbians really want, at what British Columbians have repeatedly and consistently called for. It certainly isn't the provisions of Bill 21.
What British Columbians have called for is a reinvestment and a recommitment to their public system, a system that they consider integral and crucial to their character as Canadians, as British Columbians, but this bill threatens all that. This bill threatens it not so much by what it contains but by what it doesn't say, by its exempted truths. That is what I think I need to talk about here.
I come to this House for my first term, and I've been quite astonished by several things I've seen here. The most astonishing piece, I would say, is that I have witnessed a government that consistently, and in the most damaging way, turns the levers of public policy against the people of British Columbia and against our policy. Wherever possible they benefit their cronies and their insiders, just like they will with the profiteers of medicine through this bill. Every time they can do it, they turn those levers against the people that I represent.
Not only am I politically opposed to it, I'm personally offended by the notion that any government could serve this province and turn those levers that have been developed for our benefit against us, could run a bulldozer through all of these relationships built up over generations — all of these relationships between us, our government, between public services and the private sector, its role in its world. All of that has been shattered by this government in a most reckless way, and the recklessness of their policy changes needs to be examined in the light of this bill.
So many times the government has brought forward haphazard actions — like Bill 29, which was overturned as being unconstitutional. That was something that was rushed through without thought. That was something that was rushed through based on pure power and without thought, and this is too. This is the same thing. This is a bill that's vacant of clear definition. This is a bill that will be defined afterwards. It's another "Take our word for it" bill. It's another "We'll tell you later what it really means" bill. Well, that's not good enough.
Another example of where public policy has been turned against the people is the Residential Tenancy Act, which is a consumer protection act. Yet when the consumers need more protection, what does the government do? They strip the protections from that bill, turn it against the people, just like with Bill 21.
They're taking the provisions of the Canada Health Act, the basic principles, and trying to mitigate them. This act is being turned against the people. This act will limit the expectations of the people. This act will damage the services to the people.
Bill 29, as I said, unconstitutional. Bill 75, pushing the communities and people out of the way. We're being forced from the table. British Columbians are being forced away from the table while cronies and insiders gain access to government and effect government policy, not the will of British Columbians.
We witnessed a Health Minister bringing forward the Medicare Protection Act, which was then…. After the Great Decider returned from his latest health trip, he overturned that because, I suppose, some of his core supporters, the profiteers who would step in and profit through the health care system, must have made a phone call. They must have made a phone call to their representative, the Premier, that Great Decider. He pulled that bill even though it had third reading. Even though it had third reading, it was pulled.
That was an embarrassment, or should have been, for the Health Minister and for this government, because the Premier put the interests of his supporters, his corporate supporters, ahead of those of the people he serves. He put private interest and profit-making ahead of public interest.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
During the Conversation on Health $6 million was spent. Six million dollars was spent travelling the province advertising a conversation that was all talk and no listening. Had this government listened to the people of British Columbia, we wouldn't see Bill 21.
No one who attended the Conversation on Health…. None of the submissions called for sustainability to be the priority. The priority is public health care and services where and when you need them. That was the promise from the government. That was the broken promise from the government.
The government offers up arguments to support their position that health care is unsustainable. They tell us that health care expenditures are growing at two to three times our ability to pay for them, but that figure is merely referring to the fact that health care is growing faster than the rate of inflation.
But in fact, health care is not growing faster than the growth rate of the economy. When it comes to the government justifying debt, they are perfectly prepared to accept the argument that debt can grow at the rate of
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the growth of the economy, far in excess of inflation — in fact, also at double the rate of inflation.
Health care spending as it exists now is sustainable. What is unsustainable is the failure to deliver adequate services to the people of B.C. Comparing debt against health care is poor reasoning. Comparing the debt growth to growth of economy and excusing that growth while condemning the growth of health care expenditures with the same reasoning is hypocritical.
The government, at the same time it proclaims to British Columbians that health care spending is unsustainable, grants billions upon billions of dollars of tax breaks to corporations and wealthy British Columbians. Millions upon millions of dollars go out to those tax breaks, to their friends, their cronies.
Who is really paying for those tax breaks? In fact, the sick are paying for those tax breaks. The homeless are paying for those tax breaks. The children in classrooms stuffed with special needs that are not met — overstuffed with students to start with — are paying for those tax breaks. The people of British Columbia are paying for the tax breaks that the B.C. Liberal government has brought. At the same time, they tell us that services to us are unsustainable.
Mr. Speaker, what is unsustainable are the arguments of the government. It's unsustainable to say that that program, public health care, which British Columbians and Canadians feel most represents their character, is crucial and integral to the definition of who we are…. That is sustainable. The attack on that is unsustainable. The attack on that will end up putting us backward economically and socially. In fact, our public health care system represents a great competitive advantage to us — a great competitive advantage.
In the United States more than 16 percent of their GDP is spent on health care, and yet 50 million people go uncovered — don't have any health care or insurance — while in Canada we spend 9 percent of our GDP and cover everyone. So there we have an advantage, and this government is willing to trade off that advantage, give the benefit of that advantage to their friends who would come to make profit from the sick in British Columbia.
This bill paves the way for that. This bill paves the way for them to open the door and give away that competitive advantage. It will alter the character of what we consider to be the citizenship of this province and of this country. In order to undermine people's confidence in the system, they use scare tactics. The number 70 percent of all government expenditures by 2017 was used for quite some time. A big, scary number all right, but of course, it wasn't based on truth, as so many things are not that the government has put forward. So it was dropped.
Now what figure do we hear? We hear 50 percent by 2013 — 50 percent. Embedded in that assumption is that the government will continue to cut away at other programs. At the rate they're cutting, that will increase the percentage of spending that health care represents not merely by the inflation of health care expenditure but in comparison to all the other cuts that were made. It's a very weak point to base their argument on.
There's a deconstruction of our system, a constriction of service, just like in the public education system. People are being driven from the public towards the private by this intentional constriction, by pinch points in the system underfunded that make dysfunctionalities occur. People end up on waiting lists and, in the education example, in overstuffed classrooms.
Those are choices. Those are priorities. They're not driven by a crisis of resource; they're driven by a crisis of priority. That's the crisis this government needs to grapple with — the crisis that their priorities are out of line with the priorities of British Columbians. That's the bottom line.
British Columbians expressed to this government what they wanted their health system to look like, and the government wouldn't listen. The Premier of this province refused to hear the people of British Columbia. That's the bottom line.
It's a deliberate mismanagement meant to drive people away from public services, a deliberate deconstruction of what we have, and our Great Decider, the Premier, has defined what that should look like. He runs a government by slogan. He runs a government by label. Our Premier mistakenly believes that just because he says it, it makes it so. He can say: "Well, sustainability added as a principle has no meaning, really. It's just to remind us, really. It has no significant meaning." So he can impose that. He can impose that meaning on the people of British Columbia.
Just because he says it, he thinks it makes it so. Well, it certainly does not. It certainly does not make it so. There are many precedents that show us that in fact, the word has meaning. In fact, the word is very important.
The Great Decider, as he's been referred to here, our Premier, has granted himself the power to infuse meaning. He has granted himself the power to infuse meaning to words like "reconciliation." However vacant the performance might be, he's granted the power to infuse that meaning. I'm very impressed by that. He's granted the power to infuse meaning to things like "sale" versus "lease" when it comes to B.C. Rail. He can define that for us, and we should accept that definition, just like we should accept his definition of sustainability.
Yes, the great power to infuse meaning or the power to liquidate meaning, the power to say that we have a seniors' budget. We can call it that, and we can infuse it with meaning, but then we can liquidate that meaning by outcome. We can just abandon the seniors and deny them service, but we've infused meaning, so the people of B.C. should accept that. The people of B.C. should just accept that. The people of B.C. should accept that it's okay to have a "We'll tell you later" act, a "We'll let you know" act, a "We know what it means, and we'll tell you later" act. That isn't good enough. That isn't good enough legally, and it's certainly not good enough morally.
"Reconciliation." That was a word that was infused with meaning and then liquidated. "Best place on earth." That's a slogan that's used all the time. That's a label that's infused with all sorts of meaning, but then
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again, meaning is liquidated when we take a look at homelessness, child poverty, unemployment rates amongst our aboriginal peoples. It really, really puts meaning back to this phrase "through action," and the meaning is vacant. It has been liquidated.
Ultimately, in terms of definition, the B.C. Rail sale has to be the ultimate piece of work. In fact, a thousand-year lease is the label, and what's the real meaning? What's the real meaning of "lease" in the Premier's world? The real meaning is "sale." So now we should accept this "We'll tell you later" act. We should accept that the definitions will follow.
Well, we don't accept that. British Columbians don't accept that. They see a government engaged in the liquidation of our common wealth, be it ferries, B.C. Rail, public properties throughout the province, education services — on and on. They see a liquidation when they know what they need is a government that will invest and build B.C., not tear it down.
As my friend said, a hammer can be used to build a house, or a hammer can be used to tear it down. The way of the B.C. Liberal government is to take that hammer and apply it to the job of tearing down the services that British Columbians so dearly need and so greatly consider as core to their value for themselves and to the definition of who they are. That's what's going on, and it's a very sad outcome for this province.
The implication is that service, that public health service, that commitment to a notion, that commitment to each other is being redescribed. "The public may pay too much for this," the government says, "so we're going to redefine what it means to have a sustainable service." When they use the word "sustainability" and attempt to insert it along with the other five principles of the Health Act and then tell us that it has no meaning, we must look to what the real case is.
It is upheld consistently that every word of an act must be interpreted to its full meaning, particularly in the absence of a description of that meaning. They say that it means nothing, and it's put up against the other five principles — which all operate independently, which all have no effect to mitigate or liquidate or decrease the value of one another. Then one principle is introduced on top of all that: sustainability. So each of those other pieces must be viewed through that lens.
By virtue of that, this new principle then supersedes the others and becomes the lens through which the others will be filtered. Universality — well, only as long as this government defines it as sustainable. Portability — well, only as long as this government and whoever might be Health Minister defines it as sustainable, and on and on through the rest of the list. It always will be viewed with the mitigating factor of sustainability as defined by a government that has introduced unsustainable outcomes socially and economically through all of their policies.
Our province looks towards this House for leadership and for us to be trusted to steward the welfare and the well-being of this province. What they, unfortunately, see is that government is turning policies against them, is taking acts like Bill 21 and allowing the dilution and liquidation of their expectation. That's what they're doing, and it's so sad.
I wonder if we should examine what their record is. We should examine whether or not we should trust this definition they offer us. The real precedent is that of a government turning public policy against people. The real example is government that liquidates our commonwealth. The real examples that we can judge this government's credit by are ones of running our government for cronies and insiders.
This is a Premier and a government that have come to Victoria and hung on the doors of this Legislature signs that say "Access by donation. Come see the minister." Who gets these appointments? Who gets the ear of government? Clearly, through public policy, through actions taken by this government, we can see that their friends — their contributors, the donators to the B.C. Liberal Party — will get the ear of government. That's the donation you need to make to gain access.
That's why the Medicare Protection Act was pulled back by the Great Decider, the Premier of British Columbia — an act that this Health Minister brought forward, that worked its way through first, second and third reading and then was withdrawn by the Great Decider.
A government lost in scandal, a government that liquidates our future, a government that runs our province through cronyism now asks us to trust this "We'll tell you later" act, this "We'll fill you in when we feel like it" act. "Definitions will follow."
If we trust that, then we will lose our service. It is clear that this act will pave the way for constriction of service in the public sector, and it will drive people away from public health care and towards private alternatives. For that reason, this bill must not be passed.
If the government were serious when they engaged the Conversation on Health, if the government had meant what it was saying, it would have had a true conversation with British Columbians. A conversation implies not only talking but listening. When thousands upon thousands of British Columbians make their views known through the process offered by this very government, in addition to the many other ways that we see British Columbians express their demand that health care remain publicly funded and publicly delivered, this government won't listen.
It has its own plan, and that plan is to constrict service, drive people out, build the case for privatization and move us towards the hands of their friends. The member from Nanaimo talked about The Iliad and the Trojan horse. He talked about three little pigs and the wolf donning sheep's clothing. He talked about a government that would slide in measures under the veil of a meaning that they have created through label — like "sustainability."
Without definition, what does it mean? Does it mean that we will pay for your health needs as long as this government considers it is a priority, weighed against the many tax breaks they give to their many
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corporate friends, weighed against the millions that they've given to wealthy private schools versus impoverished public schools when it came to the playgrounds?
Are these precedents? Is this a history that encourages trust? Is this a precedent or a legacy that implies credibility? No. It's one that rings bells — alarm bells. It rings bells and reminds British Columbians that they must secure a promise and that that promise must be delivered upon and that accountability is not something the government can demand from them and then fail to deliver themselves.
They look at this, I would guess, with a measure of suspicion, just as we do in the opposition, just as we do in light of the history of this government's management of public services. Every possible aspect of their policy has been driving the privatization agenda throughout our public services.
It would be one thing had the premise been correct. It's kind of like the Iraq war. You know, they went off to war on a faulty premise. Well, this government drove bulldozers through our systems, ripped apart our public services and tore up all manner of sectors of industry, dislocating thousands upon thousands of British Columbians on the faulty premise that we were in an economic crisis.
British Columbians know that's not true. They know that wasn't true then, and it isn't true now. They know that this is not a crisis of resource. This is a crisis of priority. This government is bringing that to British Columbia.
You know, I think if we want to look at the legal precedent that supports the argument that sustainability cannot be a meaningless word when added to the act, it was given to us by Williams v. Box in 1910: "No part of an act should be treated as ineffectual or as mere surplusage if any other construction is possible." Well, I can do a little constructing around the word sustainability. I can do that. I can turn that hammer that they're using to tear down B.C., and I can do a little bit of reassembling of meaning.
From Ottawa City v. Hunter: "If the language of the law is changed, an intention to change the law is to be presumed." Well, if we change the Health Act to add this principle that the minister says means nothing, then hasn't the language of the law changed? Shouldn't an intention to change the law be presumed? If that is presumed, what is the intention?
If we look at the track record of what the government has done and what intention that reflects, then it's clear. This is a dilution of the service. This paves the way to constriction of the service. This paves the way to further privatization.
In terms of why the government might offer the word sustainability…. Well, it's just to remind us. It's just a simple reminder that we need to consider the economic sustainability of the system — as though we don't.
In Schofield v. Glenn, from 1928: "In construction of legislation, the court must consider the mischief the legislation has intended to remedy, the provisions of the legislation as a whole and the particular language of the section in question." What mischief was this act meant to address? Perhaps the mischief of having to be stewards of a public health system? Perhaps the mischief and the burden of this government in having to provide services in an equitable fashion to all British Columbians? Perhaps that's the mischief that we need to examine.
Another precedent: "In enacting legislation, the legislature must, so far as is consistent with the language of the act, be presumed to have intended some alteration in the law and not a mere repetition of the previous law." So sustainability means nothing. It's just a mere repetition of the other law — just a reminder of what the other act really means. No, it's not.
No. There is that presumption that there was and is an intention to alter the law, not a mere repetition. It's an alteration of what British Columbians can expect. It is a dilution of what we should expect from our public services, and public health care is that service that is most crucial to the identity of who we consider we are as citizens of British Columbia and Canada. It is that notion, that commitment to one another that has set us, along with public education, at the starting line together — our children, ourselves, our families, the people of British Columbia.
Another piece of precedent: "The legislative history of an enactment may be referred to in order to ascertain the mischief at which the enactment is aimed." Well, what is the legislative history of this act, of the Health Act?
J. Kwan: I rise to enter into debate on Bill 21, the Medicare Protection Amendment Act, 2008. I think it's worthwhile to begin this discussion by looking at and simply reviewing exactly what the government is wanting to do. In this bill it is rather a simple amendment, because there are only four pages to it and not all that much writing to each page.
But there's one significant piece within it. That is that the government is purporting to add a principle to the Canada Health Act. That principle is called sustainability.
In the act, what does it say about sustainability? It says: "The plan is administered in a manner that is sustainable over the long term, providing for the health needs of the residents of British Columbia and assuring that annual health expenditures are within taxpayers' ability to pay without compromising the ability of the government to meet the health needs and other needs of current and future generations." That's how the government has defined the principle of sustainability.
It doesn't actually tell you specifically, in actuality, what that means. How would the government go about implementing this? As we know, each government varies on how or where they want to put their expenditures and invest the expenditures of taxpayers' moneys. It varies from government to government. So
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with that, British Columbians are simply left and are expected to decode what this means, the way in which the government has put sustainability in the bill.
So far, British Columbians sure as heck are not getting any assistance from the Minister of Health himself. Normally, in second reading debate the Minister of Health would actually get up and tell British Columbians what the bill is about, how they intend to achieve the goals that have been set out in the bill.
Instead, the minister chose, in that period of time, to spend his time primarily attacking the NDP or, for that matter, attacking people who just happen to have the audacity to question the government, to question the minister, to raise concerns, and — God forbid — to disagree with the government. The minister spent a whole whack of time not explaining to British Columbians what this bill is about, but rather, launching attacks for anybody who dared to oppose and question his record on health care delivery and his motive on the delivery of health care services in British Columbia.
Now, without clarification from the government, what's one left to do? We, as individual legislators in this House, have a responsibility to read these pieces of legislation that the government put on the table. Then we are left with a job to interpret, to decode and to decipher the meaning of this piece of legislation.
That's what we're doing here today. In order to do that, though…. You can't look at these things in the vacuum. You do have to go back and look at the history of where the government came from when the term "sustainability" first emerged in the health care debate. I can stretch my mind as far back as 2000, actually, where the Premier, then opposition leader, launched the idea of sustainability.
Then after 2000, of course, there was the 2001 election, and the current government, the Liberal government, formed government. The then opposition leader is now the Premier. As this sort of went on, what we saw was the government deciding that we needed to have a Conversation on Health. With that Conversation on Health the government decided that they needed to spend $6 million of taxpayers' money on advertising and promoting this Conversation on Health.
What that was about was the government's attempt to tell British Columbians that our health care system is simply not sustainable, that it was costing too much money, that British Columbians cannot afford it, and that we have to look for alternatives. Now, you've got to ask: what were those alternatives?
The government had one of their first conversations in Vancouver, to which I was invited. I — and many of my other colleagues as well — went to listen to this Conversation on Health in Vancouver.
Guess what. Their keynote presenter was Dr. Brian Day. What did he spend his time on with his presentation? Well, you can imagine that. Isn't he the guy who's out there trying to flog private health care every which way you can? Isn't he the guy who's been putting pressure on the government to bring forward private health care in British Columbia? So you can imagine that presentation, because he proceeded to talk about the doomsday scenario of the health care financial crisis in British Columbia, with a view to saying that we cannot afford a public health care system and that the alternative is, in fact, a private health care system.
This went on and on — and that was the keynote presentation. Afterwards the floor was open, and participants were invited to ask questions, make comments, and all of those kinds of things. Interestingly, as I sat there and observed…. Judy Darcy of the HEU was there as a participant. Judy put her hand up, and she did get recognized, lo and behold. She was even invited, lo and behold, and good thing she was.
She then rose and suggested that the question of sustainability might be achieved through efficiencies and cost savings in the field. She even had the audacity to suggest that the government might contact the HEU and the front-line workers in the field, who actually do this work on a day-by-day basis, and who might even have some good ideas as to how you can achieve these cost savings to address the issue of sustainability. "Well, thank you very much, Judy Darcy," the Premier said, and then, quickly, we moved on.
I note, though, that there were no presentations from anyone else who might step up and say: "Here are some ways to explore sustainability and address the question of affordability in the health care system for British Columbians." Nobody else — except for Brian Day, who was the leading authority on that question, at that Conversation on Health.
Now, I find it interesting that in this bill, Bill 21, when the government talks about sustainability, the only thing that they talk about is to ensure that annual health expenditures are within taxpayers' ability to pay without compromising the ability of the government to meet the health care needs and other needs of current and future generations. But there were no specific definitions, no attempts to talk about cost savings, no attempts to talk about ideas, which actually did generate from the Conversation on Health, from British Columbians, to say: "Here's another way to sustainability."
Well, let me just say this. If the government is out of ideas on sustainability, perhaps they could turn to different sources. If they didn't trust the HEU — because we know how the government supports the HEU and the health care workers and the trade union movement….
If the government didn't trust the front-line workers, to seek their opinions and get their suggestions on the question of sustainability, maybe the government will go to the BCMA and see what they might say and what suggestions they might have.
Interestingly, just today the BCMA released a report, and they actually have some very specific ideas on sustainability. Let me just outline for the members of this House what this BCMA report, which was issued today, is about — just a brief overview.
It's called Bridging the Islands: Rebuilding B.C.'s Home and Community Care System. The report actually concludes that the system is in decline. It also tells us that the government has not honoured its promise to build — yup — the 5,000 new residential care beds that they
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said they would build. It's not just the HEU that is saying that. Not just the NDP that is saying that. Yup, the BCMA just released a report saying exactly that.
And then, moving patients from an institutional model of care to a community, home-based model of care has been a major policy initiative of this government. True. The report demonstrates, in detail, the extent to which this policy initiative has failed due to a lack of resources and lack of leadership. The government cuts its residential care capacity while at the same time cutting home care and home support services. This has left the frail elderly and other dependent people without the care they need.
They go on to say that the BCMA says the system is "fragmented and uncoordinated, which translates to costly and inefficient care." The report then makes 15 recommendations on how to reverse this downward trend and examines successful models of home and community care in other jurisdictions.
Let's just pause here for a minute. So there's the BCMA saying that the government failed to deliver on their promise of 5,000 long-term care beds and that the system we have with home and community care support is uncoordinated and fragmented and that as a result, it is more costly and inefficient.
Maybe the Minister of Health can stop here and say, "Hey, on the question around sustainability, maybe I should take a look at that," and stop chastising our critic for Health every time he raises these issues in this House. Stop chastising our seniors critic every time he brings forward examples in this House of how the system is uncoordinated and inefficient. Maybe then the minister might even find some answers on the question of sustainability in our health care system. How about that?
Maybe they'll stop shouting at the Leader of the Opposition and stop saying that she's fearmongering every time she brings forward an example of how the system is broken and failing British Columbians. Maybe the minister can just take some time to reflect on their government's performance. He might even learn something from that and figure out how to address the question of sustainability without opening up the floodgates for private health care.
I have to say this as well — because this report is particularly good and, I might add, very timely. I don't know how that happened. The report goes on to say that from 2001 to 2007 there is actually a net decline — get this — of 553 residential care beds. Not an increase, not a surplus, not even a break-even of residential care beds — an actual decline of care beds in our community. It's from the BCMA's report. I'm not making up these numbers.
By way of history, on page 33 of the report the BCMA says:
"In 2001 the government promised to build 5,000 new not-for-profit long-term residential care beds by 2006, bringing the total number of beds to 30,420. Shortly thereafter the 5,000-residential-care-bed target was changed to 1,500 residential care beds and 3,500 independent living beds — primarily assisted living but also some supportive housing. Two years after this deadline the government announced that it was 'on track to meet its commitment.'"
But if you took a closer look at the data, it actually shows that:
"…the province opened only 3,677 'new beds or units' without specifying either how many of these were residential care…beds or whether this figure represented a net increase in the total provincial bed capability. Under the unlikely assumption that all 3,677 beds were in residential care facilities and that this is a net increase in the available total, the government still falls short of its goal by over 1,300 beds. This is consistent with the Ministry of Health data showing that from 2001 to 2007 there had actually been a net decline of 553 residential care beds."
The report recommends:
"In 2001 the provincial government committed to create 5,000 new residential care beds by 2006, but in fact, the number decreased by 1,464."
It is saying:
"The government must honour its original promise, and these beds must be (c) a net increase in actual beds relative to the number of beds available in 2001" — that should be the base in measuring this — "(d) above and beyond any increases to the number of assisted-living units or other types of HCC services."
It is the habit of this government to count, double-count and to recount every other bed that exists. Pretty soon my newborn's crib is going to be counted as a bed for the government's count on assisted living. I swear that the way in which they count the numbers is a mystery to everyone, and now the BCMA is exposing it for the public to see.
The report cites two numbers for declining residential care beds, and the more recent number is actually cited on page 33. That says 533 beds.
The report actually goes on to say that B.C. is the worst in Canada for per-capita residential care beds and residential care bed funding, that B.C. is one of only two provinces with the numbers of seniors receiving home care going down.
One of the recommendations in the report is to call on the provincial government, who must "immediately increase funding to home health care and home support programs, at a minimum, to the national average in order to both increase the number of users and expand the range of services offered."
Why do they say that? They say the failure on home and community care also constitutes a major failure to make British Columbians' health care system more fiscally sustainable. There's the relevance. Here's how you connect the dots.
Look and see where you have failed in the delivery of the health care system. Admit that you're wrong, that you haven't done a very good job of it. Not only has it failed British Columbians and the seniors and the families who need it the most, but the government has broken its promise. Also, by admitting their failure, the government can then start and look and see how they can rectify the problem. Lo and behold, they might even find answers in addressing the problem they have created called sustainability in the health care system.
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This is coming from the BCMA, the British Columbia Medical Association — not just the NDP, not just the trade union movement but doctors in the field.
The report also highlights that as the number of beds in residential care facilities declines, access to these facilities will become increasingly more limited. No surprise there, I would think, except for, maybe, the Minister of Health.
Patients will, in turn, have to rely on a decreasing share of home care and home support services, likely until a crisis arrives and they are cared for in an emergency room. Guess what. If that should happen, the costs of that will exceed those of more preventative care. Well, there's a news flash. Here's something the minister can learn on sustainability, on the question around affordability in our health care system — that the costs of crisis situations would actually far exceed those of more preventative care.
Every time the opposition raised these issues…. It's not just about fearmongering. It is actually a part of the solution to a truly sustainable health care system in British Columbia. This minister and this government continuously refuse to even acknowledge those suggestions. They mock it. They make fun of it. They belittle it. That's what the government does, and that's what this minister does.
Now here we are. The government is saying, "Oh, but we must bring forward Bill 21 so that we can define sustainability in our own secretive way, in a way that meets our political agenda" — their political agenda, that is to say — and in a way that tries to, frankly, in my estimation, put one over on British Columbians. Otherwise, why wouldn't the minister actually get to work on some of these issues?
Why wouldn't he define clearly what sustainability means and what the means to achieve that in this bill are, other than to put some code language to say: "…taxpayers' ability to pay without compromising the ability of the government to meet the health needs and other needs of current and future generations." Nobody can identify what that means.
For all we know, they could just decide to give big tax breaks to corporations — which is what the government's been doing. Didn't they just do that in this very budget? Didn't they just do that to give big tax breaks to the banks, record-breaking banks?
J. Kwan: The Minister of Transportation is cheering that.
Meanwhile they say: "Oh, but we have to ensure health care expenditures must be sustainable." We can't afford to actually fund a health care system that meets the needs of British Columbians, that actually funds the broken promises that the government themselves have made since 2001. How about that? There's what this bill really means. There's what sustainability, in this government's eyes, means.
If it didn't mean that, why on earth would the government not bring forward the Medicare Protection Amendment Act, 2003, and proclaim that? I was here in this House when that happened. The government introduced this bill, and the former Minister of Health, now the Minister of Economic Development, said in first reading:
"I am pleased to introduce Bill 92, which amends the Medicare Protection Act to better protect access for British Columbians to publicly funded health care. The amendments we are proposing today support our new-era commitment to ensure that B.C. health care is universal, accessible, portable, comprehensive and publicly administered, consistent with the five principles of the Canada Health Act.
"These amendments will bring greater clarity to both patients and private clinic operators about billing practices for medically necessary health care services. These amendments will (1) strengthen B.C.'s rules about billing practices by clarifying when charges are inappropriate, (2) confirm the Medical Services Commission authority to audit the billing practices of all diagnostic facilities and private clinics in response to complaints and (3) allow the Medical Services Commission to recover inappropriate charges from private clinics or physicians and, where it is appropriate, arrange for reimbursement for patients."
Now, this bill passed all three stages in this House. Guess what happened. I think the Premier was away at that time. He travelled, and he was somewhere else, and then he came back, and he went: "Holy moly. How did this happen?" The private doctors who wanted private health care delivery were ringing him up, I assume, like crazy, and all of a sudden the then Minister of Health had to eat…. What do you call that?
An Hon. Member: Crow.
J. Kwan: Crow. That's it. I was going to say eggs, but that doesn't make any sense. Eat crow.
Then he had to backtrack, and the bill was never proclaimed. If the government was sincere in what they say — that the issue of sustainability is not to open up the doors for private health care — the government would then proclaim this act today.
The government would bring in Bill 92 and pass it in this House and set the record straight. They did not do that, and they would have our full support from this side of the House. They're not doing that. They're hiding that bill and hoping that nobody will remember. They're hoping that nobody will remember this history. But guess what. Many British Columbians do, and surely the opposition does, because we are here to remind the government and to hold them to account.
They cannot get away with this, no matter how they try, thinking that they can ensure British Columbians don't know what it is that they're trying to do, by being smart — maybe not so smart — with such ambiguous language around an amendment to a key plank of our Canadian values and our Canadian culture, and that is our Canada Health Act.
This government needs to own up to the mistakes that they have made. The BCMA are now saying that they've made mistakes. Maybe they can stop and learn from those mistakes. Maybe they can actually work collaboratively with the opposition. Maybe the minister can stop reading some old newspapers that are more than a decade old and start actually reading his file
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today and what's before him. Maybe then he can find some answers to address the question of sustainability in a way that's effective for all British Columbians so that we don't have a health care system that's based on your ability to pay.
C. Evans: I know that it's 5:30 on a Thursday afternoon, and the galleries…. Am I allowed to say that the galleries are empty? I'm guessing that folks at home, those of you who are watching…. We're honoured, but I'm imagining that this debate is somewhat difficult for people to understand.
I'd like to start by simply explaining what I understand about the nature of this debate so that maybe it'll have some relevance to those folks that are watching or who may someday in the future — in an attempt to understand this law, should it pass — read the record and find out what at least one MLA thought.
It's my impression that medicare in Canada…. It is supported by the federal government. Canada has a Canada Health Act, and the primary interest of the federal government is really just to pay for, or assist to pay for, and set the principles of how we deliver health care. But actually delivering it….
Going to a hospital or a doctor or a clinic, seeing to it that those doctors get paid, how that will all work — that is delivered in Canada by provinces. So you not only have to have a federal law that says how the system works in principle and how the federal government will participate in funding, but in every single one of the ten provinces you also have to have a provincial act that says how that province will deliver their responsibility for health care.
In British Columbia we have the Medicare Protection Act, and that guarantees — to everybody watching or, someday, reading this — medical care provided by the Crown, and it has exactly the same principles in it that all the other provinces and the federal government have. Those principles are that the health care we deliver here will be universal, comprehensive, accessible, portable and publicly administrated.
The great news is that there's no big arguing and bickering between Canada and British Columbia on this issue. We agree on the five. There's no bickering between the government side and the opposition on this issue. We agree on the five. Historically in Canada it's one of the few points in which you don't see struggle and argument and blame. Canadians agree with the five principles of how we deliver medicare.
Folks who are watching this debate, what I think is happening here is that for the first time in my experience, which is a long time, we're proposing to change the five principles — universality, comprehensiveness, accessibility, portability and being publicly administrated — and add a sixth principle, which is called "sustainable."
Now, you would assume, folks, that you've got a government — and it's got the majority of folks — and you've got an opposition and that this debate would work like many. A government person would speak; an opposition person would speak; a government person would speak; an opposition person would speak. There would be what we call dialogue or debate. The elevated words are "public discourse."
You folks at home watching the debate would then get to choose from the options about why we would change the five historical principles of medicare to six and if it is a good idea. But this very bizarre debate, as people have been noting, has been going on for two or three days, and only one side speaks.
What are folks at home to think? What are they to assume is the rationale for adding that sixth word, when the government doesn't speak? Only the opposition has opinions, and the government, it would appear, has only one speaker. The minister gets up and starts debate. Opposition members ask questions. They raise objections. They say what they think. Days go by. The minister will get up again and close debate, and there'll be a vote. There is no public debate.
You folks at home are being poorly served. You cannot hear the for-and-against sides because there's no "for" side. When that happens in life, when you're offered two choices and you don't get to hear one of them, we could be forgiven — citizens could be forgiven — for thinking there might be a trick somewhere. What if one side of the debate has nothing to say and will simply pass it by virtue of a majority — a majority of silence? A majority of silence.
I think the word "sustainable" is lovely. Gee, I hope my garden is sustainable. I want my kids' future to be sustainable. I want my grandchildren to have a sustainable world. It's a great word, but I don't know what it means here. That's what the 30 opposition members have been saying for two or three days. They don't know what it means, and in the absence of discourse, we think it might mean something that everybody at home needs to know, because this might mean your grandchildren's ability to access medicare.
I don't want to denigrate anybody's contribution. I don't even want to denigrate those folks who haven't contributed. But, personally, I feel singularly emboldened to comment on what sustainable might mean by virtue of two factors in my personal life, professional life, that are different than most of the members.
The first one is that once in my life I actually was the Minister of Health. I actually had to struggle with the tremendous budget issues delivered unto that poor individual trying to manage a budget all over the province. I had to manage with the blame when something went wrong and someone was on TV not being served or, worse, dying. I had to go to Treasury Board and beg for money.
I actually understand this word "sustainable." I understand the difficulties of running the principle, I think, a little bit differently than you might, hon. Speaker, or others in this room. So I have tremendous sympathy for the Minister of Health of any political party trying to make the public system work, because of course, there's the principle of accountability. It all comes down to one individual. When Global TV or BCTV puts health care on the evening news, it comes
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down to one individual being accountable in the morning for whatever went wrong.
I gave tremendous thought to this question of the affordability of public care when I was minister and when I had to go beg with Treasury Board, so I understand the importance of public discourse. Or I wish for public discourse. I wish that the government was part of this debate on the question of how we manage public health care and make it affordable.
I've got to tell you that in the time that I had that job and had those struggles, it never occurred to me that the way to resolve it was to add a word to the medicare act. It never occurred to me that the way to deal with the positives and negatives of raising more money or spending money, or what have you, was to change the law.
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
A law is the most constraining form of influence that we have in western civilization. It's not like a suggestion. It's not like a principle. It's not like a value. A law is the tightest box you can build. Everybody who has ever worked here understands that the worst way to manage society is with a piece of legislation, because it's a box.
So the idea of adding a word into a sentence in order to manage a budget and to provide health care to four million people never occurred to me, and I don't think it ever occurred to any Minister of Health ever before faced with that terribly difficult task. It does not resolve the problem.
That's the first point I wanted to make based on personal experience. Adding a word to the medicare act does not solve the problem, so it must be intended to do something else. It doesn't make the minister's job any easier, it doesn't make the government's job any easier, and it doesn't provide better care. So why would you do it? I've been waiting here for three days to hear somebody tell me. Why would you do it? Nobody stands up. This is not a debate. Nobody is standing up to answer the question.
The other thing from my personal life that, I think, leads me to stand here today opposing this bill is…. You hear lots of debate, from this side at any rate, about the Canadian care system against the American system. We live right next door to this monolith, this elephant, so naturally, everybody in our province or in our country, when they think different system, they think American system. They've got friends down there and cousins down there, and they see it on TV.
I actually got to live in both countries, and so I got to see the American system and the Canadian system right up close. I want to tell you stories about, firstly, why I don't want to go to the American system. I'll tell you about my cousin Margaret. My cousin Margaret married a professor, which means a guy with money, a Harvard guy or something. They were quite wealthy. He had a health care plan, and they were married and had some kids, and everything went fine. My cousin, unfortunately, got breast cancer and then was made well, because of course, her family was covered by a health plan, and so she recovered.
Then my cousin and her husband separated and divorced. This is a person who is now perfectly well, a person in the upper middle class, a person with money but separated now from her husband, who taught at university and had a health care plan. So she shopped across the country. She had choice. She had the American idea of consumer choice. She shopped all the way across the United States trying to find a medical plan that would take a woman who had once had breast cancer. Zip. She isn't poor. She isn't a poor person. She's a consumer, a person with cash, who drives a big car, and she couldn't get health care.
The second story I'll tell you is from my mom — now passed away. I went to visit my mom when she was 80. She had a birthday, and we all gathered there to celebrate my mom's birthday. She also lived in the United States at the time. Everybody was there, and they gathered around. My mom's name, too, is Margaret, and somebody — one of the cousins — said: "Well, Margaret, you look pretty good. You're 80, but you look pretty healthy. How do you think you're doing?" And what she said — because now I've been living in Canada — stunned me. She said: "Oh, I'm great. My doctor says: 'Margaret, you're going to live as long as you can afford to pay me to keep you that way.'"
Can you imagine that, hon. Speaker? Can you imagine life expectancy defined by the size of your bank account? See, in Canada, we don't feel that way. I immigrated. I was 20 years old — 21 actually, a couple days after my birthday. I had two kids and a pregnant wife, and I lived all that time — my previous life — in the United States. I actually saw people who didn't have money bleeding in hospitals from knife wounds and gunshot wounds when I was a kid. They just bled.
I lived in a system where my parents had enough money, so I had a health care system. Then I came to Canada and got a job as a longshoreman, but I didn't have papers. I hadn't signed up for medicare, B.C. Med. In fact, we were so green about how Canada worked that we didn't even have a doctor. Bonnie's pregnant, and Halloween night, she says: "Cork, you better wake up. My water's broke." I go: "What are we going to do? We don't have a doctor; we don't have a plan." She goes: "I don't care what we do, but we're going to the hospital."
So we drive off to the old hospital in Duncan. I'm scared. We've got little kids in the back. We get to the hospital, and it's dark. It's midnight. We go in there, and the emergency room nurse says: "Oh, it looks like you're having a baby, dear." Bonnie says: "Yeah." She puts her in a wheelchair, and off they go. I go to the front of the hospital where there's a big oak desk, and I'm standing there in the dark. All the lights are off in the hospital. I'm standing in the dark and waiting for somebody to come out and say: "Pay. Show me your papers."
I'm there for ten minutes, 15 minutes. I don't know what's happening upstairs. Bonnie's having a…. I don't know, but I'm standing there in the dark waiting because I don't imagine that you can be in a hospital….
[ Page 11895 ]
Honest to God. I know it sounds silly to you, but I grew up in a different system, one we're trying to keep from coming here.
Finally, this nurse is rushing from one part of the hospital to the other part. She goes past the big oak desk, sees me standing there and says: "What are you doing there?" I said: "I've got to be admitted here. I've got to make a deal." And she says: "Aren't you the guy whose wife's having a baby?" I said: "Yeah." She said: "Well, this is Canada. Go upstairs, have the baby, and come see me tomorrow. We're having a baby here, not doing a deal."
And even though guys don't cry, I was crying in the dark because I didn't know…. This is a miracle. You see, to those of us who weren't born into this system, this is a miracle. This isn't how it is out there.
Now we're just adding one word, eh? Never mind Corky's stories about America. We're just adding one word to the Canadian principles for medicare. The word is "sustainable."
I would have expected in three days of debate here that the folks over there, some of whom are pretty smart…. Get up and tell me why I need that word, sustainable. I didn't think it would help, as minister myself. I never saw how it would help as a parent or citizen. But if there was an argument for adding that word, sustainable, I would have thought I would have heard it by now.
I didn't hear it. So you know what happens? When people don't hear the reason to do something from the people that are proposing it, they start to think…. They start to want to look under the rock.
Once upon a time people who worked in this building were up there with ministers of God in the public's respect. Now we're kind of down there with car salesmen. When the folks at home see us doing something they don't understand, they're wondering about the fine print. They're wondering what's under the rock.
If you're going to do something as radical as change the five words that Canada historically used to define health care to six, they want to know: "What does the sixth word mean?" There's some risk about what it might mean. I think there's so much risk that even if I wasn't afraid that it's a trick….
I'm paid wages to oppose. I'm paid…. You know how democracy works? The government's supposed to propose and argue a case. We're supposed to oppose and argue a case. Through the argument, stupid stuff is supposed to disappear, and good public policy and legislation is supposed to get born.
I'm working with what I have felt, as a person, is a miracle. When you got a miracle, you don't add a word without an understanding. There's no understanding coming here because there's no debate coming here because nobody has stood up in three days to argue why.
The folks at home — what are they thinking? They're thinking maybe that word erodes the history of the other five. I'm starting to think that, too, and I am an optimistic, cheerful person. I am not a paranoid person.
I usually look for the best in people and in public policy. But when nobody will tell me the reason for adding a word in something that works so well that it's a miracle, then I'm starting to think that maybe there's something in there that's going to erode what I had so that my grandchildren don't have it. The word says sustainability. That means it goes on into the future.
We in this room are in control of how much money there is. We raise taxes; we lower taxes. We charge more for trees, more for water; we charge less for trees, less for water. We're totally in control of how much money there is. Does sustainable mean that if we say there will be less money, then there's less care? Is that what it means?
Hon. Speaker, if that's what it means, then we ought to have a debate, not just in this room but everywhere — but at least in this room.
What is the function of coming to work here? Why did the people elect you if not to speak? What have you got except voice? What are you using to do your job, to argue your case, except your integrity, your words, your debate?
If you come in here with power because you got 50 votes and you don't speak, then the people think it's a trick. Even I am starting to think it's a trick.
We've got to withdraw this bill, or else, folks at home, you're going to have to rise up, because there's nothing in this process that is explaining to me or to you why we are adding a word to a miracle.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I don't know if it's a trick, but I know that it is our job to try to find out, and we have failed to find out. That means, folks, that power will answer this question, because debate is failing in British Columbia today.
B. Simpson: Well, that's always a hard act to follow. Over the last three years I have very much appreciated the knowledge and the insights of the member for Nelson-Creston, and I have learned a lot about both the history of politics in British Columbia and what's transpired in the past and also about where British Columbia can go if we choose to use the full range of our democratic processes and engage in debate. I think the people of British Columbia saw the passion that the member has for debate.
I'm going to take a counterpoint to the member's position that nobody spoke. One person did. The minister responsible for the act spoke. The minister responsible for the act stood up in this House. He had the opportunity to answer the member for Nelson-Creston's questions because it's his obligation to do that. It's his act. It's his vision. Well, we think it is. It may be somebody else's, but it is supposed to be his vision for the future of health care in the province of British Columbia.
You would think that he would take that opportunity to make his case to the people of British Columbia, and what did he do? He went on a political rant. He said nothing meaningful to British Columbians about what the intent of this bill is. I believe that is a shame-
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ful approach to our democratic process. It is unacceptable that the minister responsible did not explain to British Columbians what is meant by this act.
Nobody disputes that our health care system has challenges. Nobody disputes that. This side doesn't dispute that. We have challenges of an aging population. We have the challenges where at the time that that aging population hits our health care system, we have a youth population that seems to be growing unhealthy, with problems with obesity, diabetes and lack of activity. They're going to come and hit that health care system at the same time.
We have increasing toxic loading in our environment that's causing all kinds of diseases and disorders.
We have poverty as a result of this government, growing poverty that is a leading cause for people accessing the health care system. This government's own policies are driving more people to access the health care system at critical junctures in their lives because they don't have the supports they need.
We have all of that going on, and instead of the minister standing up in this House and giving us a vision for how our health care system is going to address that, he goes on a political tirade. Well, I think he has an obligation to explain. As the member for Nelson-Creston correctly points out, in the absence of that, we will look under the rocks.
We will be forced to believe that all we've got here is an excuse to drive our system to a private model, to a two-tiered system which is the Premier's vision for public health care or for health care in British Columbia. He's been clear about that. His tour in Europe was clear about that. That's what his agenda is.
What I find interesting, though, as well, is that the minister didn't even stand up in the House and tell us what he got from the Conversation on Health. He just went around the province and supposedly listened to British Columbians. He's got a position of authority that he exercised in consulting with British Columbians. He could come here and illuminate us about what British Columbians said and how that led him to put the word "sustainability" in here to fix all of our problems.
The other question is: who did he consult with behind closed doors, as this government is known to do?
The other thing I find very curious…. I've said many times in this House. I find amendment acts a struggle. Amendment acts are a problem because it's hard to actually understand what's going on unless you know the whole bill. What's helpful for myself and for British Columbians is that on the left-hand page, you get explanatory notes.
The very first thing that this does is that in section 1 it adds a bunch of words to the preamble to the Medicare Protection Act, words like individual choice, personal responsibility, innovation, transparency and accountability. It adds in the fact that "reasonable access" is ensured, "consistent with the Canada Health Act" and the sustainability principle that's going to be added, the "ongoing value for money for all taxpayers."
What does the explanatory note say in section 1? It's "self-explanatory." The explanatory notes don't explain. The minister doesn't explain. How are British Columbians supposed to know whether or not this will actually address the challenges that the health care system is being confronted with? This is ludicrous, and it's patently unacceptable.
We can only be left to assume that either one of two things holds true. First, the government and the minister don't even know what these words mean, and so they can't explain it. The crafters of the legislation couldn't explain it. Or there's another reason — a reason that's not acceptable, a reason that is beneath the cover of darkness, a reason that they don't want to explain to British Columbians — why they're doing this. I think, unfortunately — because not one member stood up and explained; the minister didn't explain what's going on here — that that's the reason we're confronted with and that's the reason this government is driving us to a two-tiered health care system.
Now, all they're doing is adding this principle of sustainability. I looked up the definition of "sustain." Actually, if the government had this in mind, we could probably support their idea — not what they're doing but the idea. "Sustain" simply means to provide for an institution by furnishing the means or the funds. Do I have a problem with that? No. In fact, that's the problem.
If this government stopped fearmongering and suggesting to British Columbians that we have a crisis, suggesting to British Columbians that health care costs are completely unacceptable at 71 percent…. If, instead of manufacturing this crisis, they actually talked on the same terms as everybody else does, as a percentage of GDP, we would see that the problem is that this government is not sustaining the system the way it needs to be.
We are sitting, as many of the speakers on this side of the House have said, at 6.9 percent of GDP, when the benchmark for sustaining public health care is between 8 and 10 percent. That's the problem — not what the minister is suggesting.
We need to sustain the system. The system needs the additional capacity to address the challenges that it's got. This doesn't fix it. What it does do is it plays with words that are unexplained. This is an amendment act. What "amendment act" means, in principle, is that there's something wrong with the existing legislation and that it needs to be fixed. That's what an amendment act means.
For us to support this act, we have to agree with the basic premise of the government that the Medicare Protection Act is not sufficient in itself. We have to agree with that principle, and we have to say that the way to fix it is to add a sixth principle, the principle of sustainability. Well, what does that mean?
First off, we don't agree that the act needs to be fixed, because the act does have the word "sustainability" in it, but it has to do with fiscal sustainability, and it requires the minister to meet the other five principles of the Canada Health Act and take into account prudent fiscal management.
[ Page 11897 ]
What that means is that the minister actually has to do his job and figure out how to make the system efficient and effective and meet all the principles. What this government is doing is shifting it from a responsibility of the minister to a principle on par with the other five principles, the principles of public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability and accessibility.
Well, the problem with adding a new principle is that now this principle of sustainability is on the same footing. It's on par with all of the other principles, and here's where it gets very ugly, because the existing five principles are not in conflict with each other. You can have a publicly administered system that is comprehensive, universal, portable and accessible. They don't conflict.
When you add sustainability, you add a potential for conflict. You add a wiggle word. You add the ability for the minister to not do his job as a responsibility, to make sure he is using fiscal prudence. You give him a way out of doing that job by simply having him say: "That's not sustainable. Let's delist these services because if we continue to provide these services, it's not sustainable. Let's not give a full range of health care opportunities in rural British Columbia because that ain't sustainable." So it's not universally accessible.
That's what this government is doing. By putting it on par with the other principles, they are simply giving the minister a way to avoid his obligation to the people of British Columbia to ensure that the five principles are maintained. It's a way out. Does that sustain the system? Not on your life.
We are the only province that gets fined right now for having too much private health care. I think, as we know from the Minister of Health federally, the federal government will not support this approach. They've said it's a non-starter. So we actually threaten the amount that we get from the federal government either through fines or through the federal government sitting down with this minister and saying: "You're moving too far away from the Canada Health Act."
There are other aspects of this that are particularly troublesome and, again, are supposedly self-explanatory. In the self-explanatory section the words "individual choice" and "personal responsibility" are being added. Again, because it's an amendment, that suggests that there's not enough choice in the system and that right now the system doesn't demand enough personal responsibility from the people of British Columbia.
We don't agree with that, and we would have to agree with that to agree with this bill. But what those words do is raise all kinds of interesting questions. For example, does "personal responsibility" and "individual choice" mean that an individual should be personally responsible for paying more costs independent of the public system? That's the path we're on in British Columbia. This would drive it further.
Does it mean that accessibility under the act will be constrained by where you live? It's your personal choice to live in Quesnel, British Columbia, or Likely, British Columbia. Therefore, you have a responsibility to take care of your own health care because the provincial government doesn't have to provide it.
Does it mean that we can start saying to people: "You weren't personally responsible when you did an X action — rode a motorcycle, cut your fingers off when you were working in your own shop. You didn't act responsibly, and therefore, you're not going to be covered."?
We don't know the answers to those questions because nobody on that side will stand up and answer them. Nobody on that side will stand up and defend this bill. Nobody on that side will stand up and give us an explanation so that we understand what this government's intent is. And the problem with legislation…. It's all about intent. The words are merely a reflection of intent, and in this case, we don't have a clue what this government intends to do — not a clue.
We have challenges in the health care system — no question. But instead of a bill that gives us no comfort, instead of a bill that doesn't explain to British Columbians how this minister and this Premier are going to address those challenges, what we get is a bill that has nothing of substance in it for us to be able to say yea or nay to. So we're forced, as members of the loyal opposition, by principle and by responsibility to say: "This ain't on."
As the member for Nelson-Creston suggests, we'd just pull it. Bring us back a bill that at least, at a minimum, in the explanatory notes for the preamble, doesn't say that it's self-explanatory. It actually gives us explanation, if the minister isn't going to stand up on his own feet and give us the explanation in his own words.
We have a range of challenges that we have to confront. I think that other jurisdictions may look at us very carefully if we pass this, if the government decides that they're just going to ram it through. I know, for example, we are heavily dependent on air ambulance out of Alberta for the lion's share of the east of this province. We're heavily dependent on air ambulance out of Alberta. Will Alberta get fully funded for the services they provide to us?
One of the things this bill doesn't tell us is when the principle of sustainability kicks in. Does the principle of sustainability kick in when the minister steps back, looks at all of the aspects of health care and decides which are sustainable and which are not, which are fundable and which are not? In that case, somebody who has already taken advantage of the services of air Alberta — that gets delisted, they have to pay the bill.
We don't know. It's a point of debate. It's a point that I know members on this side of the House need to know, because many of their constituents are covered by those services in Alberta — difficult pregnancies and surgeries that are covered there. We need to know that. We need to know what this government intends to do to sustain the health care.
As the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant pointed out, we have an issue with seniors care. Right now 13 percent of the population are 65 or older, and
[ Page 11898 ]
they take up about 50 percent of our health care budget. In two decades they'll be 26 percent of the population. Unless we understand how to effectively address that issue and unless, as the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant pointed out, the government actually does the right things and the minister takes the responsibility for prudent investment in the health care system like the 5,000 beds that they promised and haven't delivered on, we will waste money in the system.
An example is the failure to invest in intermediate care facilities, where those intermediate care facilities have ramped up and the demands on their facility are greater than they were in the past. Many of them don't have the kinds of equipment they need in order to serve the clients they have now. They don't have things like tilt toilets or hoists or electric beds. Many of those facilities need an infusion of capital to bring them up to the level of care that they have just now. Otherwise, what happens is that the level of care is not there, and the health care workers bear the brunt of that in increasing ergonomic injuries.
The issue of addressing health care workers' needs in the workplace is growing. In fact, we had a whole report from the Auditor General in February of last year called In Sickness and in Health: Healthy Workplaces for British Columbia's Health Care Workers, which says clearly that the Auditor General's office concluded that: "Health authority leaders need to focus more attention on creating a healthy work environment for their employees. …the ability to sustain and build on these healthy work environments is constrained by a lack of directed funding, by a lack of focus and by a lack of integrated information about all aspects of employee health and the work environment."
If we don't provide a healthy work environment in our health care system for our health care workers, we lose a lot of the senior people. We lose a lot of the knowledge that's there. We lose the ability to deliver quality care. That has all kinds of cost implications to the system for lack of appropriate and directed investment, prudent fiscal management.
Our young people, as I indicated before, are increasingly unhealthy. This is, again, the government's own report from the provincial health officer, the annual report from 2006. It states that students and youth rated their health and well-being quite high, although about 50 percent indicated that they had some type of chronic condition — 50 percent.
It says: "Despite the perceptions of students, the health of B.C.'s children and youth requires attention. A large percentage of children and youth are overweight or obese and are likely to suffer a poor quality of life in adulthood unless changes are made." There's a prudent investment in our youth so that they don't come into the health care system. We keep them out of the health care system by giving them the kind of life and the kind of opportunities that they need to have.
This government is also driving this province to greater and greater poverty. We've seen those figures from the Progress Board, the Premier's own handpicked group of people that have said that the Premier has to address the issue of growing poverty. Well, hopefully the minister does understand the relationship between poverty and health care costs, because if he doesn't, we're in serious trouble.
The retraction of services to mental health and addictions, and the fact that we have people with addictions who cannot get access to the kinds of health care services that they need just drives the cost of the system up.
It's about prudent fiscal management. It's about finding efficiencies. It's about addressing root causes. It's about making sure the system is sustained. It's not about adding a word — an important word and an important principle — to the existing principles. What that does is give the minister an out. What is that out? Private health care. That's what the out is.
That's what this is all about. It's to give the minister an out, to simply say: "These five principles notwithstanding, I now have wiggle room to undermine the five principles, to say it's not sustainable, to fearmonger among British Columbians, to undermine the public system." Instead of a medicare protection amendment, what we have is an undermining of the medicare system.
So I guess to recap what I was saying, the problem that we have here is that we don't know. We don't know what is going on because the minister won't stand up and defend this bill in this House.
The minister did interesting things. I watched the debate on television. He did very interesting things where he defended the bill using points of order to try and shut down debate on this side — right? That's what he tried to do. He's undermining our democratic process by not telling us what their thoughts are, by standing up and doing a political diatribe on his side, and then using, or attempting to use, the rules of the House to shut down debate on this side. It didn't work for him.
We have a situation in this province where we need leadership. We need leadership on this file. Unfortunately, neither the Premier nor the minister seems to want to exercise that leadership. The main reason for that — and we all know it quite well — is that when they did do the Conversation on Health, they went around this province. British Columbians, like all Canadians, said categorically: "We want our public health care system to remain public. We want that public health care system to be efficient. We want that public health care system to address the real issues of British Columbians."
The response British Columbians get is an empty bill that begs so many questions that it's not worth the pages it's printed on, and a government that refuses to stand up and defend this bill to a person — except for the minister who didn't defend it himself.
So I will close with that. This is not a bill that anybody in British Columbia should support, including every member on that side of the House.
M. Farnworth: I only have a few minutes to make some comments on Bill 21. I want to bring it back, I
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think, to one of the key issues that's being asked not just on this side of the House but outside this chamber, and that is: why this amendment? Why this word? Why this focus on it without the definition, without saying what it is?
This is at a time when other provinces are facing the same challenges we are, when the federal government recognizes that the challenges that face the health care system are best dealt with by recognizing that it's a provincial health care system and it's a national health care system, and the province is working to ensure that those five principles are key. Those five principles work. They have always worked, and for us to somehow say, "Let's add a sixth that's not defined," just says something's wrong. It's not right.
We're told not to worry about what it says. Well, words have meaning. It's like saying "distinct society" doesn't mean anything. We all know it does, and it does. It's the same with the word "sustainability." It's the way and the approach the government has taken on this issue.
The government tried to sell it to the other provinces. They rejected it. They tried to sell it to the federal government. They rejected it. Now the government is fixated on bringing it in, despite being rejected across the country and other provinces, which leads people to ask why, when the effort and the focus should be on what we know needs to be done.
Prevention; preventative health care, investments there; mental health; training health care professionals, whether they're doctors or nurses, and treating them with respect — those are the things we should be doing.
This bill is not necessary. This bill is not sustainable.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Mr. Speaker: Members. The member for Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain has the floor.
M. Farnworth: Thank you, hon. Speaker, and I know that the member for Nelson-Creston recognizes that I am on his team.
The point is that we know what needs to be done. What needs to be done is action, not this bill, not this undefined, hazy term "sustainability."
Mr. Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the Minister of Health closes debate.
Hon. G. Abbott: It has been a fascinating four days. I must admit they've been four of the longer and more tedious days of my life, but interesting nevertheless. I had naively, I think, hoped to hear some vision from the New Democratic Party along the way here. Regrettably, we didn't.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. G. Abbott: If this was the dance of the seven veils, all seven veils would still be intact, and there would be a fresh set of winter clothes on top of the veils as well. That's how illuminating, really, the discussion was.
Now, the members opposite have asked a number of times: "Well, why sustainability? Why put sustainability in the Medicare Protection Act?" The fact of the matter is that it's already in there. It's been in there since 1995. Former Health Minister Paul Ramsey put it in there in 1995, but apparently somewhere along the line between 1995 and 2008 sustainability became a terribly nefarious thing. It was a fine thing in 1995; it's a terrible thing now in 2008. That is so typical of the absolutely empty vessel that is NDP policy in this province — absolutely empty vessel.
Now, another point I want to make here before moving second reading is that if the members wanted to understand sustainability, they could have even looked at the bill. I know it's a long bill. It's two pages plus two sections on page 3. They could have gone to section 5.7, where sustainability is defined.
Mr. Speaker: Minister, sorry to interrupt you, but the Lieutenant-Governor is in the precinct, so I would ask you to adjourn debate.
Hon. G. Abbott moved adjournment of debate.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported resolutions, was granted leave to sit again.
Mr. Speaker: If the members would remain in their seats, the Lieutenant-Governor will be here shortly.
Royal Assent to Bills
His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor entered the chamber and took his seat on the throne.
Clerk of the House:
Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2008
Small Business and Revenue Statutes Amendment Act, 2008
Labour and Citizens' Services Statutes Amendment Act, 2008
Utilities Commission Amendment Act, 2008
Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Renewable and Low Carbon Fuel Requirements) Act
Public Safety and Solicitor General (Gift Card Certainty) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008
Electoral Districts Act
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In Her Majesty's name, His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor doth assent to these acts.
His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor retired from the chamber.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Hon. M. de Jong moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Monday morning.
The House adjourned at 6:22 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF FINANCE
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); H. Bloy in the chair.
The committee met at 2:33 p.m.
On Vote 32: ministry operations, $60,293,000.
Hon. C. Taylor: Just before we begin, if I may introduce the staff who are with us right now — I will try to do this as we change staff and go along — of course, Deputy Minister Chris Trumpy; Linda Morris, deputy minister, public affairs; Ron Norman, executive director; and Marlena Buckley, manager of budgets for PAB, are with me today.
B. Ralston: By agreement with the minister opposite, we're also going to deal with some of the questions under Vote 33 at this point. So although the minister has formally read Vote 32, I don't believe there'll be an objection to that.
I'd like to begin with the public affairs bureau, just confirming some of the information that's set out in the plan. There are 216 employees of the public affairs bureau. Is that correct?
Hon. C. Taylor: Yes, that is correct.
B. Ralston: The role of this particular bureau is various, but in particular, can the minister explain what the role of this particular bureau is in designing advertising programs on behalf of the government?
Hon. C. Taylor: Generally, cabinet will set the priorities for the coming year, and the public affairs bureau is responsible for working with each ministry and minister to carry out those initiatives.
B. Ralston: While that's the role of the bureau, the cost for the advertising program for an individual ministry would be borne by the individual ministry and would not appear in the public affairs bureau or the Ministry of Finance budget. Is that correct?
Hon. C. Taylor: In fact, it's both. Ministries have some budget for it, and sometimes support for a particular initiative will also come from the dollars that one would see in the PAB budget.
B. Ralston: I'm going to read a list of advertising programs. I just want the minister to confirm whether or not the public affairs bureau has some hand in crafting and directing these advertising programs: a program supporting international trade; B.C. Parks; ActNow B.C.; the Conversation on Health; the budget consultation; forest fire prevention; the so-called best place on earth, considered to be summer domestic travel, I think; and climate action.
Hon. C. Taylor: If we caught all of the programs accurately, yes. PAB has been involved with everything except climate action, which has not yet begun.
B. Ralston: Can the minister, then, describe the involvement of the public affairs bureau in the program supporting international trade?
Hon. C. Taylor: In the specific instance that the member asks, the ministry and the minister would decide the overarching idea for the program. Public affairs would work with the ministry and the minister to develop ideas for advertising as well as other initiatives — again, working in concert with the ministry — and then it would be carried through.
B. Ralston: So I'm assuming that this program advertising international trade — at least that’s the description that's given — would be done in conjunction with the Ministry of Economic Development.
Hon. C. Taylor: Yes, that is correct.
B. Ralston: Can the minister advise: what was the cost of the creative side — in other words, the preparation, the concept and putting together the contract — as opposed to the cost of buying the ads to market the finished product, if I can put it that way?
Hon. C. Taylor: As is the practice, the breakout of the ad campaigns is released at public accounts when all of the assessment has been completed. Since part of that campaign started last year, some of it will be in the public accounts coming up. For the advertising and initiatives that are happening this year, it would be in the following year's public accounts.
B. Ralston: Just so we're clear, then, the minister is telling me to…. She's not prepared to answer that
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question at this time, and the only answer will be found in public accounts.
Hon. C. Taylor: As has been the practice in recent years, at least while I've been here, the public accounts are where these campaigns are fully broken out and people can see what the complete costs are.
B. Ralston: Well, can the minister — or the deputy minister who is responsible for the bureau and is seated beside her — advise what the cost of the creative portion of this particular campaign was? Surely there is some knowledge of that at this stage. I'd be astonished if there wasn't.
Hon. C. Taylor: As I've just said, the breakout of these ad campaigns for all of the ad campaigns will come at public accounts.
B. Ralston: In this process, then, the minister is not going to provide the cost of a publicly funded advertising program which is largely complete. Is that the answer that the minister is giving?
Hon. C. Taylor: The campaign, of course, is not complete. A portion of it was last year, and as is the practice…. We have very transparent public accounts. We are receiving praise from across Canada for the transparency of our public accounts. It will be released at that time.
B. Ralston: Obviously, I'm not going to get an answer to my question on that point.
Can the minister then advise what was the scope of this particular program, what were its goals and where was the advertising placed — whether it be print or television or Internet ads or whatever?
Hon. C. Taylor: The practice of the public affairs bureau is to work with the minister and the ministry on these different programs. So the best person to ask these specific questions about what had been intended with the campaign, what the hopes and priorities were, would be the minister responsible. In this case, it would be the Minister of Economic Development.
I can tell you, though, that I happened to be in Toronto and Montreal at the time that this campaign was on. Part of the campaign was to encourage workers and investment to think about British Columbia. It was quite remarkable that everywhere I went, the people in the financial community were very aware of this campaign, very impressed. I've never seen a campaign that got so many positive responses. So it certainly was a successful one.
In terms of how the minister has initially thought about this campaign, how it was different last year from this year and what his plans are going forward, I would refer the member opposite to the specific minister for this specific campaign.
B. Ralston: Well, I appreciate the anecdote, but I think the public is probably demanding a little bit more in the way of substance as a response.
Can the minister then advise: what was the role of the public affairs bureau in devising this campaign — since she seeks, obviously, to defer these questions to a minister whose estimates have already been completed? People watching this may not know, but that process is over for this year and will not return. We won't be back here, if we are back here, for at least another year or possibly longer.
Can the minister, then, advise what the role of the public affairs bureau was in this particular campaign?
Hon. C. Taylor: The role of the public affairs bureau on any of these campaigns is to sit down with the minister and the ministry; understand what the wishes and the priorities are for a specific campaign; work out a concept, again, in concert with the minister and the ministry; of course, produce it; then once it is finished, monitor it; and ensure that it is carried out properly.
B. Ralston: I'm taking it, then, the minister is suggesting that the public affairs bureau are merely advisers to ministries and that the substantive work is not done by the public affairs bureau but done by individual ministries. I appreciate that it may be convenient to deflect it in that direction. Is that really what the minister is saying?
Hon. C. Taylor: Certainly, the description that I give and intend to give is that it is a partnership. It is the minister and the ministry who decide the main idea and importance of the campaign, and it is the public affairs bureau's job to find a concept that will support what it is that the minister and the ministry wish to do and to oversee the creative, to place the creative and to make sure that it is implemented as the minister or the ministry wishes.
B. Ralston: Did the public affairs bureau select the agency of record who would execute this particular campaign?
Hon. C. Taylor: Our process for choosing agencies of record is on the record, actually, and we follow a process whereby there is an open tendering process. The agency that is finally chosen to cover a certain area of subject matter has the contract for two years with two one-year extensions possible.
This current process ends in 2008, and at that point there will be the option to renew for another year.
B. Ralston: I wasn't clear from the minister's answer whether she was speaking about this particular contract — because I certainly am — or whether she's speaking about the process generally. What I'm interested in getting an answer to is: did the public affairs bureau select the agency of record who delivered this campaign, and if so, what was the name of that firm?
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Hon. C. Taylor: The agency of record is TBWA. They were chosen prior to this campaign being initiated.
B. Ralston: No doubt it's out of date now, but the freedom-of-information process usually takes years to get responses from. Back in 2004-2005 there were, I understand, seven agencies of record. Was this TBWA one of the agencies of record back at that point?
Hon. C. Taylor: We're now talking about history rather than this year's estimates. To the best recollection of the staff, they had probably had two contracts. We would be very happy to look up the historic records and find out at what point they were first part of the agency-of-record system.
B. Ralston: I should just say that this request was responded to in June of 2007. It was made sometime before that, and it refers to an audit of the public affairs bureau contract review of agencies of record back in 2005.
Generally, in the most open and transparent government in Canada, it takes about two years to get a response to these kinds of simple requests. So that's the reason why I'm dealing with history.
If the minister is willing to provide me with all audits, from that date forward, of agencies of record from now until today's date, I'd be happy to stand down briefly while we get that, and then I could ask more relevant and pertinent questions. I don't expect I'll get the answer, but nevertheless, I'll be interested in the reply.
Hon. C. Taylor: The member's question is not clear. If the request is for audits on the procurement process for our agencies of record, yes, we are happy to provide that. We do not do audits of the firms, if that's the question.
B. Ralston: This was a review, an internal audit and advisory service — I don't know whether the comptroller general is here and she can assist in this — to assess the contract procurement practices relating to seven agency-of-record contracts issued in 2004-05.
If there are, and I don't know whether there are…. There may be requests in process beginning that interminable wait for responses from the government through the freedom-of-information process. But if there are other documents that the minister is prepared to provide now, then I'd be happy to receive them, and I can form some questions based on those.
Hon. C. Taylor: Every time we do the big process for new agencies of record, we do an audit of the procurement process to make sure that we're following proper rules and that we have been in compliance. Our records that we're just looking at here show that the last one was issued in December of last year, and certainly, subject to FOI and all the proper processes, we'd be happy to release that one.
B. Ralston: I appreciate that commitment. But I take it the minister is not prepared to stand down and release it to me in the next short while in order that I might form questions based on that document here today. As the minister is aware, we are here until approximately six o'clock, at which point estimates for the Ministry of Finance will be closed for at least a year. So in order that I be able to question the minister directly, that's what would be required to be done. Is the minister prepared to do that or not?
Hon. C. Taylor: As I said, we would be happy to release that. It would have to go through the FOI screen.
B. Ralston: Can the minister, just for the people who might not understand that response, give an idea of how long that would take?
Hon. C. Taylor: The best estimate would be that it would probably take a week.
B. Ralston: Well, it's obviously not going to be here this afternoon, so I'll continue on other questions.
When did TBWA become an agency of record for the government?
Hon. C. Taylor: July 2006.
B. Ralston: When was the contract awarding them this particular project granted?
Hon. C. Taylor: This campaign for the Ministry of Economic Development started in the spring of 2007.
B. Ralston: My question was a little more precise than that. When was the contract signed?
Hon. C. Taylor: Once a company is the agency of record for a period of two years, they do not sign contracts for each campaign. So it would go back to when they were first chosen, which would be July 2006. They became the agency of record.
B. Ralston: Perhaps just for those who may not be familiar with it, the process of becoming an agency of record entails what?
Hon. C. Taylor: The first step was a request for qualifications. The RFQ was posted on B.C. Bid for four weeks. This allowed all suppliers the opportunity to bid for the work. Proposals were evaluated, and a prequalified list of suppliers was developed. An RFP then probed the prequalified suppliers for ministry-specific experience. Following the RFP submissions, short-listed agencies were required to make an oral presentation.
B. Ralston: In that process, let's deal first with…. I think the first step was creating a prequalified list. Who made the decision to form that list?
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Hon. C. Taylor: The first step is an open process, so anyone could put their name forward. There were certain specifications, of course, in terms of size or expertise in certain areas, and the prequalified list came from an analysis.
B. Ralston: And in this particular selection process, how many companies made their way to the prequalified list?
Hon. C. Taylor: We will find out the information in terms of how many were on the prequalified list, but eventually, four were chosen.
B. Ralston: I gather, if my notes are correct, then, that there is a next step, at which a request for proposals from those four prequalified agencies is requested. I'm wondering who made the decision to select the agencies that were successful in the next step.
Hon. C. Taylor: There is a panel led by procurement, not led by PAB, although public affairs certainly sits on that panel, who then looks at the prequalified, checks their qualifications, looks at their experience and looks at the specifications that are necessary for the type of work that will be required.
B. Ralston: For the uninitiated, procurement is a part of the Ministry of Finance, or not?
Hon. C. Taylor: Procurement is with the Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services, and that is where it is run out of.
B. Ralston: Who from the public affairs bureau was on the panel that is described as being "led by procurement"?
Hon. C. Taylor: Darwin Sauer was on the panel, and we will check to see who else was on the panel.
B. Ralston: Then if I'm following the process, there were selections made by the panel? How many agencies were remaining after this selection?
Hon. C. Taylor: There were four.
B. Ralston: I just want to confirm this so that I understand this correctly. There were four prequalified and four, then, selected by the panel. So the same four that were prequalified were selected as well. Is that correct?
Hon. C. Taylor: No, in fact, I said we would check to see how many were prequalified. Four were chosen.
B. Ralston: And where is the opportunity for political input into this selection process? Where does that come in?
Hon. C. Taylor: There is none.
B. Ralston: So the political affiliation of any of the principals of these firms would be an irrelevant factor. Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. C. Taylor: The political affiliations would be irrelevant. We are looking for size, we are looking for experience, we are looking for a match for the particular areas of interest, and therefore the panel would use that information to choose these agencies of record.
B. Ralston: So at this point the TBWA was selected, along with three others. Can the minister name the other three agencies that were selected? I expect that in this list I was given earlier related to this vote that some of them will be performing work on behalf of various ministries in these various campaigns.
Hon. C. Taylor: Two things. First of all, the two other people who were on the panel from public affairs were Peggy McMahan and Katherine LeSueur. The four agencies that were chosen as agencies of record were TBWA, Cossette, DDB and Wasserman.
B. Ralston: Katherine LeSueur's position in the public affairs bureau is what?
Hon. C. Taylor: The person mentioned was brought in on contract because of the expertise that they had to help with the selection process.
B. Ralston: She was brought in on contract. Obviously, she's affiliated elsewhere. Is she an independent contractor, or did she work with some other firm in the field?
Hon. C. Taylor: An independent contractor.
The Chair: I just want to remind all members that when you're standing and have use of the floor, you cannot use any IT devices like BlackBerrys or computers to read from.
B. Ralston: Thank you for that reminder. I don't think that I was the offender in this case.
Can the minister advise who the person she referred to as Peggy McMahan…? What was her position with the public affairs bureau?
Hon. C. Taylor: This lady is a manager within Darwin's team.
B. Ralston: That's Ms. Darwin Sauer, who has been previously referred to. Are those three, then, the entire composition of the panel? Is there anyone else on the panel?
Hon. C. Taylor: We believe that there was one from Labour, Liz Lowe.
B. Ralston: I take it, from the apparent uncertainty of the answer, that the position of that person with the Ministry of Labour is not known.
[ Page 11904 ]
Hon. C. Taylor: Just again for the record, we're talking about history here, so this was a panel that was put together in 2006. Liz Lowe is a purchasing agent with Labour.
B. Ralston: So the upshot of this competition was that these four agencies were selected as agencies of record. Can the minister just briefly explain what an agency of record does and what relationship it then has at that point with the public affairs bureau?
Hon. C. Taylor: The purpose of choosing an agency of record is so that we can move quickly. We know that the agency has its area of expertise. So from public affairs' point of view, they know that, in a particular area of government business, this is the agency for that two-year period that they would go to. They would go to them for concepts. They'd work together, once the minister or the ministry has identified a particular campaign that is needed. They work together, again, in partnership.
B. Ralston: The minister described the areas of expertise of TBWA and the ministries to which it was, I'm assuming, assigned by the public affairs bureau, but I could stand to be corrected on that point.
Hon. C. Taylor: I'm happy to read these out for the record. Cossette Communication is responsible for Education and Advanced Education. TBWA\Vancouver is Health. Wasserman and Partners is Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources; Forests and Range; Agriculture and Lands; and Environment. TBWA is Finance, and Labour and Citizens' Services. Wasserman is Children and Family Development; Community Services; Seniors' and Women's Issues; and Employment and Income Assistance. DDB Canada is the Attorney General, Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, and Public Safety and Solicitor General. Cossette is Small Business and Revenue; Transportation; Economic Development and Asia-Pacific; and Tourism, Sport and the Arts.
B. Ralston: Who made the decision to assign each of these agencies to a specific ministry?
Hon. C. Taylor: To correct the record, I moved two categories here. So Economic Development is TBWA, which I had said earlier.
When the initial ask or request for qualification goes out, it goes out in broad categories — for instance, looking for an agency that has had experience in the health area or in the economic development area, just as an example. So then they come through, and the panel assesses whether, in fact, particular agencies do meet the needs that we're looking for.
B. Ralston: So the final selection of the four, then, were each successful in four separate packages of ministries, or four separate groupings of ministries. Is that how it worked?
Hon. C. Taylor: Yes, that's correct.
B. Ralston: The process and these agencies of record were created, then, or the contract was signed in July 2006, so it's obviously very close to expiring. What process has been set in place by the public affairs bureau to go back out for a request for proposals?
Hon. C. Taylor: The contracts, as written, have provision for two one-year extensions. To determine whether or not that extension is warranted, the public affairs bureau does an assessment and a review of the work that has been done in the past two years. We'll make a decision as to whether or not to renew it for one more year, and then there is a following one-year possible extension.
B. Ralston: Given that, as I understand it, the first initial two years is about to expire in two months or so, what steps have been taken to initiate that review of each of these four agencies of record up till today's date?
Hon. C. Taylor: The department is in the middle of that review.
B. Ralston: And when is that review expected to be complete?
Hon. C. Taylor: There is a requirement in the contract that the agency be given 30 days' notice, so at the latest I would say June, but the staff in the department feel that we're close to being there.
B. Ralston: I confirm that no decisions have been made on the renewals. In the event that a renewal was not offered, what are the plans to go back for a request for qualifications? I presume that would take longer than 30 days.
Hon. C. Taylor: It would be possible to do a temporary reassignment to one of the other agencies of record, if it were warranted. If there were unhappiness with a particular agency, then we would be going out to complete the public process that we talked about previously.
B. Ralston: Given the time schedule that's been described and the state it's at now, it doesn't seem to me that it is likely that there is any unhappiness, and all four agencies will have their contracts extended. I don't expect that's something that the minister can answer, but it would seem that if there were concerns, that process would have been set in place before today's date. Can the minister at least confirm that?
Hon. C. Taylor: We have been very pleased, in fact, with our agencies of record. They have been delivering the product on time and in a way that we've been very happy with.
[ Page 11905 ]
If the member opposite is suggesting that if we ran into a situation where we were very unhappy, then I would assume, in that case, that you would probably start the process earlier. We have been very happy with the work being done so far, but we are obligated to do a proper review and assessment and will make that decision.
There have been times when there is no agency of record in a particular area while a process is going on, because there's not always work going out the door.
B. Ralston: Can the minister advise, then, which agency of record has the climate action or climate change file?
Hon. C. Taylor: It's Wasserman.
B. Ralston: I know, from reading the deputy minister's diary that's been provided to me by FOI, that consultations on this file began at least as far back as…. The diary entries that have been provided to me go back to April of last year, but when did Wasserman, this particular agency of record, begin their work on the climate change file?
Hon. C. Taylor: They were all July 2006.
B. Ralston: Just so I'm clear then, is the minister saying that as of July 2006 this particular agency of record, Wasserman, was at work, billing the government for its work on the climate change file? I'm not sure that's what was meant, so perhaps that could be clarified.
Hon. C. Taylor: Wasserman has the Environment file. For instance, they were working on one of the parks initiatives.
Hon. Chair, may I say that we've checked dates on the audit that the member opposite asked about, and in fact, it was publicly released to the media last October.
B. Ralston: My question was: when did Wasserman, as the agency of record, specifically begin work on the climate change file? I appreciate that there are other initiatives in the Environment Ministry such as B.C. Parks, but I'm wondering. When did specific steps on that file begin?
Hon. C. Taylor: For a specific like that I will refer you to the Minister of Environment.
B. Ralston: I'm looking at the diary entry of Linda Morris, the deputy minister of the public affairs bureau, on Friday, April 27, at a meeting at 10:45, which said: "PAB climate action plan." That's April 27, 2007. So can the minister advise what that meeting concerned?
Hon. C. Taylor: The deputy minister will go back and refer to notes and find out what that meeting was specifically about.
B. Ralston: Perhaps I can be of some assistance. It says: "Decision. PAB climate action plan decision on further members, Linda's office." Then there's a strategic planning retreat the same afternoon of that day. So there may be some relation between that meeting and what's being planned in the future.
I wonder if that helps assist the deputy minister, through the minister, to recall what the meeting was about.
Hon. C. Taylor: To the best of everyone's recollection, that followed, of course, the throne speech where the Premier identified this as a priority for the coming year. The public affairs bureau did some work on what the climate action initiative or plan might look like but did not at that point involve the outside advertising agency.
B. Ralston: Can the minister then advise when the outside agency, in this case Wasserman, the agency of record, became involved actively with the public affairs bureau in developing the public outreach through various advertising media on the climate change file?
Hon. C. Taylor: I believe that Wasserman has been meeting with the people involved with environment and climate change over the past few months. Again, this specific question is better directed to the Minister of Environment.
B. Ralston: Just so that we're clear then, is the minister saying that at this point the public affairs bureau is not involved in the development of the plan by Wasserman for outreach on what is surely one of the government's signature advertising campaigns, heading further down the road this year?
Hon. C. Taylor: In this particular instance the climate change secretariat has their own budget for advertising and outreach. The model is not the same as it is, for instance, with ActNow or some of the other campaigns. PAB is available as support, and Wasserman is the agency of record, but it is my understanding that the climate change secretariat and Environment have dealt directly with Wasserman as well.
B. Ralston: Does any discussion of the advertising campaign fall into some of the same prohibitions against public disclosure that so much of the rest of the climate action plan has been subject to — under embargo from the public?
Hon. C. Taylor: Well, I have to refer that to the Minister of Environment, who is responsible.
B. Ralston: I'm sure we'll expect a very responsive answer from him in due course.
I want to return to some of the other campaigns that are underway, aside from climate action, since I take it the minister has nothing to offer here about the
[ Page 11906 ]
cost of that program. Just if I can confirm that the minister is not in a position to reveal to the public, at least through the Legislature here in this estimates process, the cost of the advertising of the climate action program….
Hon. C. Taylor: Again, of course, specific campaigns get released with all of their cost breakdown at public accounts. The Minister of Environment would be the better person to speak to how many of the dollars that are in the budget will go towards outreach and how much would go toward advertising. I'm not privy to that conversation, and I don't know what the breakdown would be.
B. Ralston: Thank you for that response, Minister.
I'm looking at a number of other campaigns. Can the minister advise how much the budget consultation for the budget just past is estimated to cost?
Hon. C. Taylor: Once again, all of these breakdowns will be in the public accounts. If the member opposite is interested in the cost of the budget consultation process from the year before, we could go back to last year's public accounts and pull that out.
B. Ralston: Can the minister advise what the cost is in the current year of the ActNow B.C. campaign?
Hon. C. Taylor: And to think I spent 25 years in communications. All of the breakdowns for all of the ad campaigns, whatever the ministry, are released at public accounts.
B. Ralston: Can the minister advise the public, through the Legislature here, to the opposition critic of Finance, how much the Conversation on Health cost the public?
Hon. C. Taylor: Last year's public accounts listed Conversation on Health as $1.7 million at that time. That does not say anything about whether or not there are costs in this year.
B. Ralston: Can the minister advise what the objectives were from the perspective of the public affairs bureau of the "Best place on earth" campaign?
Hon. C. Taylor: I would just make the point that these questions have nothing to do with this year's estimates. Public accounts from the year before have dealt with many of these campaigns.
B. Ralston: So there's no ongoing involvement and, therefore, cost incurred by the public affairs bureau in staff time or contracts to deal with the "Best place on earth" campaign? It's completed, and there's no more expenditure expected on that campaign?
Hon. C. Taylor: Any campaigns that happen in this year will be released when public accounts comes in.
[B. Lekstrom in the chair.]
B. Ralston: The BC150 campaign is currently underway. I notice a meeting in the diary of Linda Morris, the deputy minister of the public affairs bureau, with Bruce Okabe — I understand he's the Deputy Minister of Tourism — back on April 16 of last year.
What is the involvement of the public affairs bureau in the BC150 campaign?
Hon. C. Taylor: The situation is the same as for the other campaigns that we've talked about. Public affairs bureau sits down with the minister and ministry to talk about objectives and ideas and concepts about how a campaign might unfold.
B. Ralston: What new major campaigns are currently in development at the public affairs bureau?
Hon. C. Taylor: Certainly, there are a number of campaigns that are ongoing. ActNow is ongoing; BC150. We are considering whether or not it will be necessary to do a campaign around forest fires. This is the time of year we also look at other public interest issues like floods and try to decide whether it is important to get public information out, but it is ongoing discussions that decide what campaigns will happen.
B. Ralston: In the international campaign for recruitment and investment…. The minister, I believe, referred to that anecdotally earlier. How are the decisions made to place ads in markets outside of British Columbia? Who made those decisions?
Hon. C. Taylor: The role of PAB and, certainly, the agency of record is to provide advice and ideas to the minister and the ministry as to how they might best meet their goals. Based on that, the decision would be taken in partnership with the minister and the ministry.
B. Ralston: Aside from what the minister has just mentioned, are there any other new major campaigns in development by the public affairs bureau?
Hon. C. Taylor: There are always discussions and ideas, and I would think that practically for sure there will be something on climate change as these issues evolve. But it is an ongoing discussion, and we make decisions when we feel the time is right.
B. Ralston: As the minister knows, 2009 will be the election year. What is the intention of the public affairs bureau as to the timing of the cessation of government advertising in relation to the election? There have been some positions taken in the past by the Premier and by various ministers, so I'd be interested in what the current view of that commitment to end government advertising prior to the election is.
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Hon. C. Taylor: It was before my time in government, but I believe before the last election the advertising, other than statutory advertising or public information that would be considered essential, stopped around mid-January. I would expect that would be the practice this time.
B. Ralston: The minister sounds a bit — perhaps understandably — tentative on that point. Has a firm decision been made that all government advertising, other than what the minister refers to as public service advertising, will cease at that point? Or is there a decision to be made by cabinet? Or is a decision to be made by the public affairs bureau? Is it a decision of the minister? Who will make that decision, and when will it be made?
Hon. C. Taylor: I was hesitant about the date because I couldn't remember the date of the election. I have been reminded that the date of the election is May 12. So to back up, it would be January 12. Since public affairs comes under my ministry, it would be my recommendation that we do the same as the previous election, which would be January 12.
B. Ralston: The minister did make an exception for what she referred to as public service advertising. Can the minister explain what is meant in this context by public service advertising?
Hon. C. Taylor: Yes. It would, for example, allow us to do ads for job vacancies, or if there were any kind of a provincial emergency, but anything that could broadly be considered promotional or in support of government programs would stop at that time.
B. Ralston: The public affairs bureau has a media monitoring section. Can the minister briefly describe how many people are employed in that media monitoring section of the public affairs bureau?
Hon. C. Taylor: There are ten.
B. Ralston: And what files, in terms of media monitoring, are developed on members of the opposition?
Hon. C. Taylor: PAB does not develop files on members of the Legislature. They monitor the media and put together information on positions and what's being said in the media.
B. Ralston: When that is done, do they group those by utterances or public positions taken by individual members of the Legislative Assembly and, in particular, members of the opposition?
Hon. C. Taylor: It certainly is likely that it would be by topic.
B. Ralston: So when it's said that it's by topic, is the minister suggesting that, for example, on agriculture, the one file on agriculture, which would include the member for Nelson-Creston as the Agriculture critic and the Minister of Agriculture, or are there two files? It seems more logical to have one concerning the utterances or media clippings of the Minister of Agriculture and the second concerning the topical — or not — utterances of the member for Nelson-Creston.
Hon. C. Taylor: We collect by stories or topics, not people.
B. Ralston: What is the relationship between those files and the political staff of an individual minister?
Hon. C. Taylor: MAs certainly receive information on various topics for the information of their minister.
B. Ralston: I take it, then, that there is some discussion or relationship in terms of communication of information between the political staff of a minister and the public affairs bureau staff member who might be monitoring not an individual member, as the minister says, but an individual issue. Is that correct?
Hon. C. Taylor: The clippings go to the communications department, to the director within the ministry, and they certainly would have contact with the ministry itself, with the minister, with any of the staff in the office.
B. Ralston: Is this process any different for the monitoring of ethnic media?
Hon. C. Taylor: No, we monitor all media.
B. Ralston: The Government House Leader has a program on radio 1550, Sher-e-Punjab. What is the relationship between that program and the public affairs bureau? I understand, on the rare occasions that I've listened to it, that it does speak about government policy and invites members of the government caucus to appear on the show. It seems to be very closely aligned with the communication goals of the government. So can the minister explain what the relationship is between this particular radio program and the public affairs bureau?
Hon. C. Taylor: We have community relations individuals within the public affairs bureau who certainly give advice to all the ministers, if they have any specific questions. As to how the particular minister mentioned decides on his material or goes forward, I would refer that to that minister.
B. Ralston: Just so I'm clear. I'm advised — maybe incorrectly — that the public affairs bureau and the public affairs staff assist in making arrangements for guests to appear on this show. So given that we have the deputy minister for public affairs here, able to assist the minister in this response, I'm wondering what the relationship between public affairs bureau staff is and this particular radio program.
[ Page 11908 ]
Hon. C. Taylor: It is my understanding that in the early days — so now, again, we're far away from the estimates here — a certain individual did help in that way. It is my understanding that that is not true any longer.
B. Ralston: Is the minister, then, saying that there are no public affairs staff or public affairs resources involved in the production of this particular radio program?
Hon. C. Taylor: Not to my knowledge.
B. Ralston: The minister referred to a category. I believe there are community relations officers who work for the public affairs bureau. Can she briefly describe that particular job and what it involves?
Hon. C. Taylor: Yes, we have two: one as a community relations officer with the Indo-Canadian community and one with the Chinese community. As an example, I felt very strongly that we as a government have to make sure we reach out to our ethnic and multicultural communities. I have changed some things with the presentation of the budget, for instance, because I felt that we were not reaching out in the way that I wanted to, to all of these multicultural communities.
I went to both of these community relation officers and said that when I released the budget and answered questions about the budget, I didn't want to do it just with the mainstream press. So I asked them, in their own communities, to set up press conferences with, in one case, the Indo-Canadian community and, in the other case, with the Asian community so that they would have equal access to the Minister of Finance.
I'm very pleased with our community relations officers. I think they do good work and provide a great service to the people of B.C.
B. Ralston: In the case of the South Asian community, I understand that Mr. Parm Bains is the person. Can the minister advise who the person dealing with what she described as the Asian media is?
Hon. C. Taylor: Yes, it's Mary Lo.
B. Ralston: Of the four agencies of record, is the minister able to advise whether they provide outreach or advertising services in other languages? Or are they obliged to or do they, in fact, subcontract with other contractors who can provide that service or that advice?
Hon. C. Taylor: The part of any advertising that would be required for translation, for example, comes under Labour and Citizens' Services. The advertising agency would do the look of a particular budget consultation paper, as an example. It would go over to the Ministry of Labour — it's a contracted service there — for proper translation. The advertising agency would put it together, and then it would be distributed.
B. Ralston: In terms of the process, none of the creative side of the advertising is then subcontracted to agencies that specialize specifically in marketing to what, according to the last Census Canada report, is a large and growing community of citizens in our province who may primarily communicate with one another through languages other than English.
Hon. C. Taylor: The creative is done by the agency of record, but we are trying to get more of our materials translated so that we can do outreach. That service is contracted out by Labour and Citizens' Services, it comes back, and the agency of record puts it together, but the creative is the same.
B. Ralston: What involvement does the public affairs bureau have in public opinion research?
Hon. C. Taylor: Public affairs has not done any.
B. Ralston: Just so that I'm clear then. Do any of the agencies of record…? As part of the preparation for their campaigns, are they asked or expected or is it part of a contract to do polling on certain issues — for example, the climate change initiative? Is the agency of record asked in shaping its creative, to do some polling as part of that?
Hon. C. Taylor: I would refer you to the minister responsible.
B. Ralston: Then, as a general question: do agencies of record as part of the preparation that's requested by the public affairs bureau in preparing a campaign…? Are they asked to or do they do, as a matter of practice, public opinion polling?
Hon. C. Taylor: To my knowledge, I'm not aware of any of the agencies of record doing original polling. I'm sure that they look at existing polling that's out there and put together some of their ideas. I do know that when the creative is not maybe completed but getting towards completion, they have done some focus testing on groups. But to my knowledge, I'm not aware of any original polling that they've done.
B. Ralston: So can the minister advise that if the public affairs bureau does not do polling, does the public affairs bureau receive the results of polling in order to assist the shaping, direction, targeting, creative of its various advertising campaigns? That would seem to be a markedly unsophisticated approach if none of that was done.
Hon. C. Taylor: It is one of the functions of the agencies of record that when a specific priority is identified or direction that they would pull together research and information and provide it to the minister, the ministry, public affairs, so that that could guide them as they make some decisions.
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B. Ralston: Just so I'm clear then. Is the minister saying that the public affairs bureau does not receive the results of polling, whether it comes from the Premier's office or some other agency of government, for use in shaping its campaigns of outreach to British Columbians — if I can put it that way?
Hon. C. Taylor: There are times that you could find something that you might call polling. For instance, I understand that the Minister of Environment on parks did some exit interviews to find out what people were thinking. I don't know the extent of it because it's certainly his area.
There would be information that might come from ministers or ministries, as they decide on campaigns, but in terms of the question about whether public affairs does original polling, we don't.
B. Ralston: In response to many of my questions, the minister has directed me to other ministers who might know something more about the individual campaign, but since, obviously, Finance would be involved in direct budget outreach, can the minister advise whether, in the case of that program, there was any polling or public opinion research done as part of preparation for that particular campaign?
Hon. C. Taylor: There was not.
B. Ralston: Were there any what are called focus groups done — where an agency is contracted to draw citizens together, theoretically at random, to bounce certain ideas past them and gauge their response — as an aid to preparing a campaign?
Hon. C. Taylor: Again, focus groups are sometimes used to test creative. You could, in a way, say that the Conversation on Health was a series of focus groups, as it went around the province asking people how they felt about the health care system. Certainly, focus groups like that have been used from time to time.
B. Ralston: In connection with any campaign initiated by the Ministry of Finance, can the minister advise whether focus groups were used, or not?
Hon. C. Taylor: Within Finance we do not use focus groups to test policy. We did not use focus groups to test the budget consultation paper, so to my knowledge we have not used focus test groups in the way that is being asked.
B. Ralston: In her diary, the deputy minister of public affairs bureau, Miss Morris, met on August 23 with Sarah Harrison, and it's described as an "update on the climate change file." Can the minister advise what that meeting concerned?
Hon. C. Taylor: To the best of the deputy minister's knowledge of a meeting that happened some time ago, it would have been just a continuation of ongoing discussion about the climate change initiative that I mentioned earlier, where some work was done by public affairs, thinking about how we could carry through in this year with the Premier's priority of climate change as identified in the throne speech. In terms of what, specifically, that meeting was about, I couldn't tell you.
B. Ralston: I appreciate that you mentioned a meeting in April, and this is one in August. But are there, then, regular meetings at which the deputy minister of the public affairs bureau is updated on the climate change file? Is that how it works?
Hon. C. Taylor: There are certainly meetings, as there are with all of the ministries and their various initiatives, but I wouldn't say regular meetings. Irregular meetings might be more accurate.
B. Ralston: Just to confirm, then, that the monitoring by the public affairs bureau of the public campaign for the climate action program is not controlled by the public affairs bureau. Monitoring is sporadic. All the decisions are being made by the Climate Action Team, and they have a budget of an unknown amount, at least here, for that public outreach. Is that right?
Hon. C. Taylor: There is $5 million in STOB 67 which is possible to be used for advertising. It might be used for outreach. As I indicated earlier, because this isn't my file, I'm not privy to the conversations that they may have had in terms of how that money will be used. The climate action secretariat does have their own dollars to be thinking about how they proceed to work through their agenda. I would say that the role of public affairs is supportive rather than the lead.
B. Ralston: Back on Thursday, July 19, there was a meeting. This is, again, from the diary of the deputy minister of the public affairs bureau: "Meeting with Darwin re STOB 67, your office." Unfortunately or fortunately, there's a reference to section 22, which is of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, that leaves a big blank below that. But is this the $5 million that's being referred to?
Hon. C. Taylor: It's impossible to say from that description because every ministry has STOB 67, so it would be hard to know.
B. Ralston: Regrettably, the rest of it has been whited out, so I really can't provide any further detail in my question, but that's what I have.
Can the minister advise what the involvement of the public affairs bureau is in Legacies Now?
Hon. C. Taylor: Legacies Now has moved, I believe, at some point in its history. We believe that it is currently with Tourism, but we will check that out and find out if that's accurate. Again, any of these issues….
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PAB's relationship is with the minister and the ministry, and therefore, anything they're involved in…. When a priority is identified, then PAB tries to help support that priority and to suggest concepts going forward.
B. Ralston: If I might return briefly to the climate change file. As part of this very distant monitoring, there was a meeting right after a meeting with Chris Trumpy — I take it that's the deputy minister — on Tuesday, September 11, described as "climate change comm plans discussion, Linda's office."
Can the minister advise if this is part of the very remote and distant monitoring of these communication plans that was going on?
Hon. C. Taylor: I'm sure that there will be other meetings that can be found in the deputy minister's diary, but these are ongoing conversations about what this year is going to look like in terms of communications — if anything is necessary, what that might be, what the timing might be. So I believe that the member opposite has cited at least three examples that are all similar in terms of talking about the issues, talking about possibilities.
B. Ralston: Indeed, I am. Two days later there's a meeting on Thursday, September 13. Linda Morris, Graham Whitmarsh, Louise Comeau — I understand that she's no longer employed by the government — Sarah Harrison and David Haselin "re climate action, executive boardroom." So again, a monitoring meeting? Is that what took place here?
Hon. C. Taylor: Could the member opposite please repeat the question?
B. Ralston: I'll redescribe it. Sorry, I may have spoken too quickly. It's a meeting that took place on Thursday, September 13, from the diary of Linda Morris, the deputy minister of the public affairs bureau. Described as being present, at least in the diary…. I'll read the names: Linda Morris, Graham Whitmarsh, Louise Comeau, Sarah Harrison and David Haselin "re climate action." It was in the executive boardroom, fourth floor, 617 Government Street.
What was the purpose of that meeting?
Hon. C. Taylor: I believe that that meeting would have been one of a series that talked about ideas that might be used, what the branding might be, when you look at climate change.
B. Ralston: Are any of those participants representatives of the agency of record?
Hon. C. Taylor: Could the member opposite please repeat all the names?
B. Ralston: I'm not sure that they were there, obviously. It's just an entry from the diary and perhaps expected to be there. Linda Morris, Graham Whitmarsh, Louise Comeau, Sarah Harrison and David Haselin.
Hon. C. Taylor: All of the individuals named are staff, either with the secretariat or with public affairs.
B. Ralston: Further, in the diary of the deputy minister of public affairs bureau, there's a presentation — this is October 4 — by Cossette Communications on social marketing. Can the minister explain the purpose of that meeting?
Hon. C. Taylor: I'm afraid that I can't give any specifics to that meeting.
B. Ralston: I want to ask a question about the process by which people are hired to work at the public affairs bureau. Can the minister explain that process?
Hon. C. Taylor: We do internal and external recruiting, and it's very important that we try and have as broad a base as possible when we pull people into public affairs. There's been a very strong initiative by our government in the last couple of years to try and encourage people to think of the public service as a wonderful place to work and a rewarding place to work, so we're very proud of the recruitment we've been doing.
B. Ralston: I take it from the minister's response that recruitment is done through the Public Service Commission, and these are not what are sometimes called order-in-council appointments where there may be some different criteria applied. These are open to any qualified member of the public, at least to apply and prospectively be employed. There are no other criteria there?
Hon. C. Taylor: These are all OIC appointments, but we are allowed to use PSA for recruitment.
B. Ralston: And part of the consideration in making OIC appointments, of course, is the…. Is one consideration the political suitability of the candidate for the job?
Hon. C. Taylor: We are simply looking for the best people possible to serve with the public affairs bureau.
B. Ralston: Is the minister saying that for the purposes of being hired by the public affairs bureau, one's politics or perceived politics aren't an issue?
Hon. C. Taylor: We work very hard to hire talented people who have knowledge and expertise in the areas that we're looking for.
B. Ralston: With the greatest respect, that's not an answer that's responsive to the question. Maybe I won't get one, but my question is: is the minister confirming that one's political views or even perceived political
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views are not a factor in deciding whether one will be hired by the public affairs bureau?
Hon. C. Taylor: The public service has to serve many governments, and it can be different political governments. Forty percent of the public affairs staff, in fact, were there under the previous NDP government.
B. Ralston: I appreciate that response, but again, with respect, it's not responsive to my question. So I'll repeat it again. Is the minister confirming that one's political views or perceived political views are not a factor in being hired by the public affairs bureau?
Hon. C. Taylor: The hiring is often done based on a panel's recommendations and interviews and, certainly, public affairs would be involved in that. The minister or the ministry that may be seeking a position would be involved as well. We are looking for the best people we can find.
G. Gentner: I want to quickly move, if we could, into Partnerships B.C. — just some quick questions because I'm not going to be here too much longer. My question is very specific.
I'd just like to ask the minister a question regarding the relationship between PavCo and Partnerships B.C. Last year in May the minister responsible for B.C. Place said that there had been some discussions that were being taken, dialogue between Partnerships B.C. and PavCo relative to B.C. Place.
Can the minister confirm: have there been, in the last year, further discussions with the people of B.C. Place and PavCo relative to the relationship with Partnerships B.C.?
Hon. C. Taylor: May I introduce Grant Main, who is the vice-president of partnership services with Partnerships B.C.
While I believe that Larry Blain has probably had some discussions or meetings with PavCo, there is no formal or active relationship at this point between Partnerships B.C. and PavCo.
G. Gentner: No formal discussions, if I have that correct. Has Mr. Blain met with the minister or with Partnerships B.C. at any time relative to this matter?
Hon. C. Taylor: I understand that Mr. Blain has met with Mr. Podmore. I cannot say whether or not he's met with the minister. I don't know. But there is no active engagement between Partnerships B.C. and PavCo.
G. Gentner: Therefore, Mr. Podmore has been involved with PavCo in a very recent time. I would suggest, therefore, that since a year ago — between a year and now — Partnerships B.C. has had some discussions with Mr. Podmore.
Hon. C. Taylor: I believe I said yes to that.
G. Gentner: I'm just trying to get a time frame when Partnerships B.C. has been engaged with people from PavCo.
Any project over $20 million, I believe, is flagged by the province, and therefore, before it proceeds to next stage, it defaults to an assessment by Partnerships B.C., including any improvements over and above $20 million to B.C. Place.
Hon. C. Taylor: Yes, the member opposite is correct. The new capital standards say that any project that involves $20 million or more of the provincial funds must be looked at through a P3 lens. That doesn't mean that Partnerships B.C. would necessarily do the analysis, but Partnerships B.C. would look at the evidence presented and make a recommendation as to whether design-build works better or P3 works better.
G. Gentner: I just want to confirm. We know there's a time frame if cabinet…. I'm not going to drive this issue because that's up to, of course, the minister and her government to make the announcements. Therefore, there has been no formal application from PavCo regarding Partnerships B.C.'s involvement in replacing the roof or redevelopment of B.C. Place.
Hon. C. Taylor: That is correct.
G. Gentner: Would Partnerships B.C., in this case, also be involved with the procurement process relative to any redevelopment or refitting of B.C. Place — looking for partnerships?
Hon. C. Taylor: That decision would be open to PavCo. They could choose to use Partnerships B.C., or they could choose to use another organization.
G. Gentner: That's, of course, after we filter through the original process where such projects would have to find their way to Partnerships B.C. for some assessment, feasibility studies and the like.
Just to refresh my memory, because there's a similar project that filtered through…. I'm trying to refamiliarize myself with the view of what happened with the Vancouver Convention Centre Expansion Project. That, too, originally went through Partnerships B.C., I believe, and it was assessed as not a good partnership.
Hon. C. Taylor: The convention centre was in the very early days of P3s in Canada, and I gather from the timing — because it was before my time being involved — that that particular project was before and just after when PBC was being formed.
Apparently, PBC did have some looks at the convention centre, and I believe that there was an attempt to see if they could put a P3 together, but it just didn't work at that time. I wouldn't know all of the reasons, but certainly, part of the reason would be that we
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didn't have as much experience then in terms of what a P3 might look like or how the costing might be done.
G. Gentner: Yeah, I understand that, and my stand is: why would a hotel want to put money into a convention centre when it's going to bring all the business for them? I understand that part. If I have it correct, would Partnerships B.C….? I'm trying to look at the public facility looking for partnerships and at B.C. Place's situation.
Would Partnerships B.C. be interested in — obviously, they would assess the criteria of what has to be done — the renovation of B.C. Place with new partners, or would it prefer that the B.C. Place structure be totally replaced? Renovated or replaced: what would Partnerships B.C. assess as value for money?
Hon. C. Taylor: Partnerships B.C. is just not involved with PavCo on this project or part of this project at this point, so I can't answer a hypothetical question.
G. Gentner: That's fair. Quickly, what is the usual turnaround time, start to finish, when an application or a proponent comes to Partnerships B.C. to finish its mandate, so to speak, in providing what it set out to do? What is the general turnaround time?
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
Hon. C. Taylor: It is so difficult to give a specific answer, because it depends on the complexity of the project, like Sea to Sky would be quite different from Abbotsford hospital and different from Kicking Horse. If we give the member a general range, the process could run from nine months to 18 months, depending on the complexity, to get all of the financial pieces and the contracts together.
G. Gentner: One last question. No, I think I've tapped this one for a while.
I have a question regarding Retirement Concepts, which is a provider of private health care for seniors — long-term care, assisted living. Very briefly, and then I'll move off this one, can the minister provide for me how many long-term care or assisted-living developments Partnerships B.C. has acted for through procurement?
Hon. C. Taylor: We believe that Partnerships B.C. has been involved in approximately 11 buildings of the nature that the member opposite is asking. We don't know at this point how many would be connected to Retirement Concepts, but we would be happy to get that information to you.
G. Gentner: One last question. Could the minister tell us which health authorities are involved with Partnerships B.C., with the provision of these types of procurements?
Hon. C. Taylor: In terms of long-term care, it would be Vancouver Island and Northern Health.
B. Ralston: I'll continue, since the Partnerships B.C. people are there.
In the message from the chair in the most recent service plan, the chair refers to the Port Mann/Highway 1 project, part of the Gateway program. Can the minister explain what Partnerships B.C.'s role in this project is?
I'm assuming that this agency will be negotiating in some way on behalf of the province with the successful bidder. Can the minister explain the involvement of Partnerships B.C. in this project?
Hon. C. Taylor: Partnerships B.C. is working with the Minister of Transportation and the ministry as procurement managers.
B. Ralston: I understand a crucial part of the financial decision involving this project is the ability to model the potential toll revenue. What expert advice has Partnerships B.C. retained to provide that advice on modelling toll revenue?
Hon. C. Taylor: Partnerships has engaged Pricewaterhouse, who have international experience on modelling toll roads.
B. Ralston: Does Partnerships B.C. expect that this will be the key to the negotiations in terms of making an assessment as to who might be the successful bidder?
Hon. C. Taylor: Partnerships has been in the market since last fall and has now short-listed, and it would be very inappropriate for me to say what will or will not constitute a deal, because I wouldn't want to interfere with negotiations.
B. Ralston: Well, I certainly wouldn't want to interfere with negotiations either.
I suppose at a higher level of generality, then, would the minister agree that the financial interest of prospective private partners is directly related to the revenue that they can receive by operating the facility, and that is, of course, tolling revenues? The decision about…. I don't think it's any mystery or secret. The key component for these private bidders is the level of tolling revenue that they might expect to earn over the life of the project.
Hon. C. Taylor: The idea of tollings will be one of the issues that are considered, but P3s do not need tolls to succeed. We've got over 20 projects out there — on time, on budget, I might add. You don't have to have tolls. In some of our other projects, we have not gone that route, but in this particular one, we have said that we wanted to look at tolls.
B. Ralston: Thank you. That's fair comment, and I readily understand that the Sea to Sky project between
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Vancouver and Whistler will not have tolls, but is it now not public knowledge that the Port Mann project will have tolls? That's an important part of the public tendering process and the qualification of bidders — is it not?
Hon. C. Taylor: Yes, and I believe I said that. It is one of the components, but there are other issues, as well, that will go with this project.
B. Ralston: Can the minister advise: what is the range of the length of contract in the bid? Or is that considered commercial, proprietary information that the public is not entitled to know at this stage?
Hon. C. Taylor: If I can speak generally, our P3s have tended to be 30 to 35 years. But again, because we are in negotiations, I won't reference Port Mann Bridge.
B. Ralston: Again, at a level of generality, what protection for the public will there be in terms of a brake on the ability of the private operator to raise tolls during the course of whatever the life of the agreement might be? Is that part of the negotiations? Is it intended that that will be the case?
I'm sure the minister is aware of the section of highway in Toronto or suburban Toronto where the provincial government discovered that they had negotiated away any control over the level of tolls during a very lengthy agreement. It has obviously had some public…. Well, there's a lack of public support for that, obviously.
What steps are being taken to protect the interests of the public — whether it's commercial trucking or individual automobiles — that are going to cross this bridge when it's built?
Hon. C. Taylor: Again, I think, as the member opposite recognizes, I can only speak in generalities here. I would say, in general, that we are always trying to learn from others' experience or issues, and we will continue learning.
B. Ralston: Can the minister advise what the involvement is, if any, of Partnerships B.C. in the proposed sewage treatment plant in this part of British Columbia, the lower Island?
Hon. C. Taylor: Currently, Partnerships is an adviser to the minister responsible, the Minister of Community Services.
B. Ralston: Without going into all the detail, I just want to confirm that it's not at the stage, notwithstanding the deadline that the Minister of Environment has set, where the project would be going out to tender anytime soon.
Can the minister confirm that, at least from the perspectives of Partnerships B.C.?
Hon. C. Taylor: From the perspective of Partnerships B.C., that would be correct.
B. Ralston: In the message from the chair, the reference is made to the Surrey out-patient facility. I understand from a recent meeting with the CEO of Fraser Health that the contract there is for non-clinical services and the building and operation of the building and not for any of the medical services. Is that correct?
Hon. C. Taylor: Yes, that is correct.
B. Ralston: Can the minister advise as to what stage that particular contract is at?
Hon. C. Taylor: We have short-listed proponents and are currently in the evaluation stage.
B. Ralston: I understand that of course every evaluation, every project is different, but how long is it expected that the evaluation stage — and I take it, it's by Partnerships B.C. — will take in this particular case?
Hon. C. Taylor: Partnerships is working with Fraser Health on the evaluation, and our best estimate at this point would be that it should be completed within a month or two.
B. Ralston: When that process is completed, is the contract then awarded at that stage?
Hon. C. Taylor: At that point it would be the choice of the preferred proponent, but then negotiations would have to go from that point for the contract and the nature of that contract. So that would add a few months after that.
B. Ralston: As part of the proposal call or the request for tenders or however it's put, is there an intention to provide a lease space in this facility for physicians?
Hon. C. Taylor: I'm sorry. I don't know.
B. Ralston: I'm not sure…. Was it clear that the…? I take it the answer is no, then. Just so that I'm clear that there will be…. It's intended as an out-patient facility. I understand the successful proponent will have control over or operate the provision of food services — but it won't be as one would expect in a longer-stay hospital — and will be responsible for building maintenance over the life of the, say, 30-year contract.
But there's no intention that this facility — or in the proposal call — will have anything to do with providing lease space to physicians within the facility. Is that correct?
Hon. C. Taylor: My answer is that I don't know. We will be happy to find out the answer to that.
B. Ralston: I'll just then confirm that the minister will provide that to me. I'm going to suggest that that be available, if possible, by the end of the month, if that's acceptable.
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I want to then ask a question about the Royal Jubilee Hospital patient care centre in Victoria. Can the minister explain where that proposal is at in the process?
Hon. C. Taylor: The preferred proponent has recently been announced, and they are now in negotiations.
B. Ralston: Sometimes a criticism is made that negotiations involving these types of projects, because they involve a complex agreement that may govern the commercial relations of the parties over 30 years, take a considerable length of time. Can the minister advise what the time line is for the negotiations that are expected to unfold?
Hon. C. Taylor: A good estimate, we think, would be a couple of months. Sometimes in negotiations there are bumps along the way, but we would expect a couple of months.
B. Ralston: The chair of the board also refers to the Kelowna and Vernon hospitals project. Can the minister advise where in the process of advice from Partnerships B.C. that project is at?
Hon. C. Taylor: That particular project is now to the shortlist stage, and the proposals are being evaluated.
B. Ralston: Can the minister advise what the prospective schedule for that project looks like in terms of awarding a contract to the successful proponent?
Hon. C. Taylor: This would be a similar scenario to the others, so a month or two to evaluate and then a month or two to negotiate.
B. Ralston: Those are the projects that are listed by Mr. Mahler, the chair, in the service plan. Are there any other projects since the preparation of this report that are now proceeding? I think the expression here is "entered the market."
Hon. C. Taylor: The hospital at Fort St. John has been announced, but it's not yet in the market.
B. Ralston: Since that's the only project the minister referred to, I'm going to assume that's a complete list.
Mr. Mahler, the chair, also refers to: "The company has expanded its client base to include such sectors as education." Can the minister advise what projects in education are being considered by Partnerships B.C.?
Hon. C. Taylor: Partnerships is involved with the Ministry of Education on a design-build school in Prince George.
B. Ralston: The minister will forgive me if I'm not familiar with this school. Is it an elementary school or a secondary school or a…?
Hon. C. Taylor: The school is a secondary school.
B. Ralston: Can the minister, with the assistance of the person from Partnerships B.C., explain why this particular procurement model was thought appropriate for this particular school?
Hon. C. Taylor: In this case, it was a pretty straightforward build. There wasn't much opportunity for risk transfer, because it was felt to be a pretty straightforward project and that the design-build model would be the best.
B. Ralston: I take it, then, that Partnerships B.C. was involved in the evaluation and decided that a conventional procurement was the best course. Is that the conclusion there?
Hon. C. Taylor: In this case, everyone was in support of the recommendation — the board, the Ministry of Education and Partnerships B.C. — that design-build was the best model here.
B. Ralston: I know that the Premier announced the new capital standard that any project over an estimated value of $20 million would have to be considered for P3. Is this one of the first projects in the school construction program that came through that evaluation?
Hon. C. Taylor: Partnerships is involved in analyzing a number of different school situations. Because there have been no decisions or announcements, I'm not able to say anything further, but this one is publicly announced.
B. Ralston: Given the new capital standard, is there an expectation that a broader policy might be developed for dealing with the construction of schools? I would think, probably, it might apply to a secondary school, since they would be more likely to exceed the $20 million threshold. Is there any thought to developing a policy that would then mean, except in exceptional circumstances, that a detailed evaluation by Partnerships B.C. of each individual project wouldn't be required?
Hon. C. Taylor: At this point I'm not aware of any discussion that the capital standard would be changed. As it stands, every project over $20 million of provincial money will have this lens put on it. That's not to say that in the future there may not be some changes to that, but I'm not aware of any discussion about changes at this point.
B. Ralston: Can the minister advise, then, how many school construction projects are in the queue at Partnerships B.C. for this evaluation that's required by the capital standard?
Hon. C. Taylor: I would refer that question to the Ministry of Education.
B. Ralston: Well, I'm not quite sure how to respond, given that the requirement is that they, as I understand
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it, receive the assistance of Partnerships B.C. Is the minister saying that Partnerships B.C. is not involved in evaluating other projects or that Partnerships B.C. doesn't know how many projects it's evaluating or that they're not all going there? I'm not quite sure what that answer means.
Hon. C. Taylor: Partnerships is involved with the Ministry of Education in an ongoing way. They are involved in looking at approximately four, but they respond to the Minister of Education's request for them to have a look at a particular project. The capital standard says that anything over $20 million, when it gets to that stage, does have to have the P3 lens put on it.
B. Ralston: Just so I'm clear about the process. I understand the capital standard requires — it's mandatory — that this evaluation take place for every project that's over a prospective $20 million in value. At the moment, then, there are four in the queue. Is that a fair summary of what the minister has said?
Hon. C. Taylor: Partnerships is involved in looking at four. But the capital standard does not require that Partnerships do all of the analyses. So that would be a decision of the Minister of Education.
B. Ralston: So the Minister of Education could decide not to use Partnerships B.C. but have the evaluation of the suitability of the project done by another contractor or agency. Is that what's being said?
Hon. C. Taylor: That's correct, and that applies across the board for the capital standard. Whether it's a municipality or whoever, they don't have to use Partnerships B.C. to do that evaluation. But once that evaluation is done, Partnerships B.C. will look at it and make a recommendation to the minister.
B. Ralston: Is there a list, then, of qualified contractors to provide that kind of advice, or is that left to the discretion of the school board or the minister to make that decision as to who might perform that evaluation?
It would seem that if there's no consistency of standards, evaluations could be very uneven. I recall Mr. MacLachlan of the Construction Association expressing some concern about the implementation of the new capital standard, in the sense that, in his view, some of the advice that was being provided in this realm was not of particular value.
Can the minister comment on that?
Hon. C. Taylor: The member is correct. There is not a prequalified list of people in the private community who would do the work. But the backstop protection is that when that work is done, Partnerships B.C. makes the evaluation and recommendation. I'm very confident that if they felt that the work was not up to the standard of the province of B.C. and our P3s, they would make that known.
B. Ralston: Just so that it's clear, in the case of high schools, does the representative from Partnerships B.C., through the minister, expect or think that there might be cases where the design-build-finance-maintain model is appropriate and that the contractor would provide the building maintenance services over the 25 or 30 years of the contract?
Hon. C. Taylor: I wouldn't want to speculate.
B. Ralston: But just so we're clear thus far, there's no contract that's been agreed to that has the design-build-finance-maintain elements in relation to a public secondary or, I suppose, elementary school in the province?
Hon. C. Taylor: Not that we're aware of.
B. Ralston: I appreciate that the minister might not want to speculate, but would the minister agree that there's nothing in the capital standard or in the evaluation process that would rule that out as an option? If Partnerships B.C. thought it desirable, it could, in an appropriate case in their view, proceed on that basis — that is, a design-build-finance-maintain?
Hon. C. Taylor: The point of this exercise is to try to get the best value and the best product for the taxpayers. So it is correct to say that all of the models are on table when you look and do the evaluation.
B. Ralston: This document of Mr. Mahler's also mentions the sector of energy and wastewater. I'm aware of the Britannia operation, I think it is, along the Sea to Sky Highway, but is there anything else that's specifically being considered in the area of energy and wastewater by Partnerships B.C.?
Hon. C. Taylor: Partnerships is working with B.C. Hydro and looking at various opportunities and was working with BCTC on a project, which is now on hold, and of course, the CRD project as well.
B. Ralston: So when it said that Partnerships B.C. is working with B.C. Hydro, is this in the provision of private power? I understood that those were separate companies that were invited to tender on that. I didn't understand that Partnerships B.C. was involved in those proposal calls.
Perhaps the minister could clarify that for me.
Hon. C. Taylor: B.C. Hydro, of course, has a number of projects that are quite large. At this point, Partnerships B.C. is consulting with B.C. Hydro and is available as a resource. We're new into this capital standard, but it does say that any projects over $20 million have to have a P3 lens put on them, so at this point it's discussions that are going on.
B. Ralston: Can the minister advise, then, what involvement, if any, Partnerships B.C. has in the evaluation of the proposed Site C proposal?
[ Page 11916 ]
Hon. C. Taylor: There is no Site C proposal that I'm aware of. There are certainly consultations going on.
I should clarify that Partnerships B.C. is not involved in the IPP process, which was asked about.
B. Ralston: Certainly the minister has suggested that there's a beginning of a consultation process on Site C, and that's being approached somewhat gingerly, I suppose one might say. So is Partnerships B.C. involved in that consultation or discussion at this stage, or not at all?
Hon. C. Taylor: No, they're not.
B. Ralston: The minister referred to BCTC, which is B.C. Transmission Corporation, I take it. Can the minister explain the involvement of Partnerships B.C. in B.C. Transmission Corporation's future plans?
Hon. C. Taylor: Partnerships B.C. provided BCTC with procurement advice on Highway 37.
B. Ralston: Well, they may be able to revive that project again and go forward. I don't know.
On the Victoria project which was referred to — and I appreciate that it's at a very preliminary stage — other than basic advice on tendering design, is there anything else that Partnerships B.C. is advising in that case?
Hon. C. Taylor: This is obviously very early stages. Partnerships B.C. provides advice to the minister, so whenever the minister asks Partnerships B.C. to review something, they do.
B. Ralston: Part of the finance part of the design-build-finance-maintain relies upon, obviously, public or private capital markets. Can the minister advise if, in the view of Partnerships B.C., the shift in capital markets and the credit crunch and, certainly, the downswing in the American economy and its impact here will have any impact on the willingness of proponents to enter into agreements that involve private financing?
Hon. C. Taylor: Fortunately, the credit crunch that is happening globally, really, has not affected our procurement process. We've had very good competition; we're very pleased with that.
B. Ralston: Well, one of the jobs of boards and CEOs and senior executives is to look over the horizon. Is that confidence that what is happening today will continue, particularly given some of the signs coming out of the Federal Reserve from Mr. Bernanke and other signs of darkening clouds over the global credit market?
Hon. C. Taylor: We would have expected to have seen some evidence of that by now if, in fact, our projects were going to be negatively impacted by the credit crunch. What we are seeing more is a flight to quality. These P3 projects are highly regarded, and at this point we are not seeing any evidence of problems. In fact, we're seeing good competition.
B. Ralston: Last year the minister and I had an exchange about some of the expenses incurred by senior staff at Partnerships B.C. I gather as a result of that, a procedure — I won't call it an audit — was performed by BDO Dunwoody. Can the minister explain — and I gather that she directed that that be performed — why an audit was not chosen and this random selection of 100 items was the preferred course chosen to look at executive expenses?
Hon. C. Taylor: The decision was made in discussion with the auditor that a review would be an appropriate way to look at the expenses and to look at policy and recommend to the board if any changes should be implemented.
B. Ralston: In the service plan that's provided, there are some projections of increased revenue to Partnerships B.C. Can the minister advise, in the operation of the capital standard, what fee is required to be paid to Partnerships B.C. for being evaluated, to decide whether or not a go or no-go decision is to be made?
I'm thinking for example…. In the case of the high school construction, would the individual school board be obliged to pay a fee for that service to Partnerships B.C. for the evaluation of the project?
Hon. C. Taylor: The ministry pays the cost for the review, and depending on the complexity of the project, it could be a couple of thousand dollars. It could be more if it's a more difficult analysis to review.
B. Ralston: Well, just to perhaps aid understanding, can the minister give…? In the case of the high school in Prince George, can the minister advise what the fee was that Partnerships B.C. charged? I take it that the chargeback goes to the ministry and not to the school board. Can the minister advise how much that was?
Hon. C. Taylor: In the case of the high school, Partnerships B.C. was brought in for the first part of the process — to do the initial look at whether or not it should be P3 — as well as being involved in the recommendation. Off the top of our heads, we do not know what that fee was.
B. Ralston: Well, the senior person from Partnerships B.C. is here. Can he give any idea from his own personal knowledge of what the range of fees might be? Are we talking $100,000? Are we talking $50,000? Is there an hourly rate?
I appreciate that each project is different, but obviously there must be some range, and I'm sure that that's a…. There is a projection of increased revenue, and so that must be based on an expectation that this area of evaluation would be a source of revenue for the agency.
[ Page 11917 ]
Hon. C. Taylor: Again, I emphasize that there are two functions. If Partnerships B.C. does the initial analysis as to whether or not a P3 would work, that would be one set of costs. If their role is simply to review somebody else's work, that's obviously a much smaller cost. Partnerships B.C. will be happy to look at their numbers and give the member opposite, you know, a better idea of what that range would look like.
B. Ralston: I might have just a moment. I want to move into a new area then.
In December the minister and I exchanged some correspondence about non-bank-asset-backed commercial paper, and it was disclosed that the three agencies in particular — the University of British Columbia, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia and Fraser Health — each held varied amounts of asset-backed commercial paper.
It became apparent in the discussion that the B.C. Investment Management Corp., which is not in the reporting entity, but to which the minister appoints some members of the board and in particular the chair of the board, did not make that investment anywhere.
So I guess, given that decision, prudent and vindicated by B.C. Investment Management Corp. — and they manage, I believe, some $83 billion worth of public funds in the series of pension funds that they manage among other things…. Can the minister advise why, given that position by B.C. Investment Management Corp., these agencies took that decision to invest in non-bank-asset-backed commercial paper with the consequences that resulted and are, I think, well known? But we can canvass those a bit later.
Hon. C. Taylor: If I may take a moment just to introduce new staff who have joined us. Beside me is Nick Krischanowski, director of banking cash management, and slipped in behind me is Tara Fraganello, ADM corporate and ministry support services division.
We have canvassed this a little bit in the past, and we really are very relieved that when we look at the whole entity of the provincial government, it really comes out to about 0.2 percent vulnerability to the ABCP. That's very positive for the people of B.C. I know some other provinces are having some big issues with this.
But I should also say that these were branded triple-A, and we can see by the breadth of this credit crisis that a whole lot of people believed that they were triple-A. So I wouldn't want to be in the position of somehow knowing better than UBC did, for instance, with their investments, or someone else. We are very fortunate that the BCIMC made the decisions that they did and that we, therefore, had very little exposure.
When BCIMC was set up — and it was set up, I believe, under the NDP government — the only part of the government that was required to use their services was core plus the pensions. At this point it's just core that is mandatory to use those services. It's optional for everyone else in the entity. It was just the belief, I assume, by the NDP government as well as our government that entities like UBC should be able to do their own due diligence and, through their board, make sure that their investments were based on proper policies.
We have not changed our mind. We hope that this experience, though, might change others' minds about exercising their voluntary decision to use BCIMC because it has had a very successful time through this difficult period.
B. Ralston: Well, I certainly want to give credit to Doug Pearce, the CEO at BCIMC, who is well-regarded and obviously made the right call here. I suppose, given that UBC has — I think it's $124 million….
According to the negotiations, which are at the approval stage, if the plan is approved — which seems likely given that the small investors have now been offered close to 100 percent compensation — the likely value of the security that will be created — as I understand, they'll trade the paper for long-term bonds — might be a reduction of 50…. Well, the new instrument might have a value of 50 to 60 percent of the original face value of the paper.
So UBC has that amount of money. That's a substantial loss. It's public money. I suppose I understand that they're outside the reporting entity, but the Auditor General does have some recommendations in terms of its relationship. The SUCH sector, I think, is sort of in the entity and out of the entity in some respects.
Where is the leadership from the Ministry of Finance on this issue? Is it simply left to the discretion of places like UBC — or Fraser Health had $13 million of it — to make their own decisions, right or wrong? I mean, one can appreciate the value of a non-bureaucratic process and some autonomy in making these decisions, but when the advice from the lead financial management agency in the province, if I can put it that way, was very clear, why wouldn't one want to at least look at that relationship again and see whether some changes ought to be brought about in it?
[R. Cantelon in the chair.]
Hon. C. Taylor: In fact, the leadership and the model we're following is the same leadership and model that the NDP government used. I believe that the previous government came to the same conclusions that this government has, which is that we are best served when you just don't have a monopoly.
The fact that it is voluntary for various parts of the entity to use is a positive thing, and we really do hope that out of this experience a number of the parts of the entity that had difficult experiences will come to BCIMC. But at this point we have no intention of making it mandatory.
B. Ralston: Well, it's refreshing, I suppose, for the government minister to reflect positively on the 1990s. We don't hear that very often here. I appreciate that position from the minister. Perhaps she might have a
conversation with the Minister of Health on some other issues.
Nonetheless, just to close off on this issue, because I don't want to belabour it given our time, have there been any discussions? Is there any sense that there's
[ Page 11918 ]
any movement on that issue, or is it simply being left to the respective governance of these institutions to make a decision whether or not they want to have a further, even advisory, relationship with BCIMC?
Hon. C. Taylor: I would say that we have had conversations with all of the organizations who did not choose to use BCIMC. We are making sure that they're aware of the record and experience of BCIMC, but to my knowledge there is no conversation about making it mandatory for the entire entity.
B. Ralston: I'm not sure whether this is in the purview of the comptroller general or not, but is there any intention to use the audit function of the comptroller general to audit any of these entities with the view to deciding what went wrong, if anything, in their view?
Hon. C. Taylor: We are not doing an audit, but we are doing a survey of all of the investment policies and the governance issues with all of the parts of our entity.
B. Ralston: Finally, then, just probably for the advice of the minister. She may be aware of this. I understand that the new transportation authority also has, I think, about $40 million worth of the same paper. I can provide that privately, if the minister is interested. That might be useful to include in the same review.
My colleague has some questions about the strata act. I don't know, obviously, the question. The minister may have to change staff at this point. He'll have a few questions in that area, and then I will resume my questions.
S. Fraser: As my colleague mentioned, I've received a number of complaints from homeowners, property owners or members of the strata councils within the properties that they live in around how the strata act works right now.
I did a little bit of research and was surprised to see just how many people actually live in a strata situation. Most of the complaints seem to be regarding the powers of the strata councils and the need to update the strata property legislation in B.C.
Can the minister let me know if there are any plans to do that? I do note that there was some commitment made at an earlier date, but I can get to that.
Hon. C. Taylor: We were just trying to discuss whether it was 2001 or 2002 that the act came in. So it's a fairly new act. But without question, with new acts we do take time to look at any issues that come up. We are not formally doing a review, but we are aware of a couple of issues that we're having a look at — the dispute resolution being one of those that we're having a look at.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister. It is mostly around dispute resolution, because these are disputes that happen between property owners within the strata and the strata councils. Sometimes the strata councils are quite…. They seem to have a power unto themselves that rivals or betters municipal governments.
I pulled up some Hansard. I went back pretty far. This is going back to the hon. Gary Collins. He was questioned on this, so this would be going back to…. It might be 2003. It says here: "As part of the ministry's deregulation initiative, as well as just updating a legislation, we have a workplan in the ministry to review virtually all the legislation that the ministry is responsible for. We've completed a certain amount of that."
Then he goes on to say: "One of the pieces of legislation that is on the workplan to be reviewed is the Strata Property Act. We will be reviewing that in the not too distant future."
There was a commitment made here — I believe this was through estimates, if I'm not mistaken — to do that. There were problems recognized even back then. So we've seen four years since Mr. Collins made those commitments. Has nothing happened since then? Or are we going to be looking at it now?
Was there any progress? I can't find any record of anything that came to the House subsequent to that.
Hon. C. Taylor: The member opposite is correct. We have not proceeded with that at this point.
I have to say that in Minister Collins's notes to the next ministers…. I was not aware of this commitment, so thank you for bringing that up.
I would say that if the member opposite is agreeing that the dispute resolution seems to be a big part of it, that is one that we're looking at. And if the member has some other specific areas that perhaps we could pull forward, we would be happy to take a look at those. It is always something that we monitor, a little bit like every MLA, I think. You start to see certain issues surface, and then you have to look and try to find out what's behind it.
S. Fraser: I can get some specifics of that. I don't have them here with me now, but I'll certainly provide that. Subsequent to this meeting, I'll go find them.
Just in context, the strata legislation includes the Strata Property Act, the Real Estate Development Marketing Act and the Real Estate Services Act. As far as I can tell from my notes, there were deficiencies noted in all three of those. It basically adversely affects the rights of the property owners. The complaints aren't coming from the strata operators; but they're coming from the property owners within the stratas.
Most of the deficiencies, though, were with the Strata Property Act. I appreciate the minister's commitment to look into that. Like I say, I found this a bit frustrating, because there were previous commitments made, so there was an acknowledgement that there were problems. It's four years, or maybe going on five years now, and there's been no real progress. So I appreciate the attempt to try to do that now.
B. Ralston: I did find the reference that I had to the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority, December 31, 2007. They had Canadian non-bank-sponsored, asset-backed commercial paper with an original cost of $56½ million. So they might be
[ Page 11919 ]
added to the list of agencies that have investments which are frozen and will face substantially reduced values.
In the time that remains, which is brief, I want to briefly update myself and, hopefully, those who are interested in the Convention Centre Expansion Project. When we last spoke about this on May 3, 2007, Mr. Podmore was about to prepare a report, and he has now been on the job, I suppose, for almost a year from that date.
Based on the advice that she's received from Mr. Podmore and others, can the minister advise if there is any revision, presumably upward, in the final estimated cost of the Vancouver Convention Centre expansion, which I believe was closing in on $900 million when we last spoke?
Hon. C. Taylor: To my knowledge, the number remains at $883 million, and I'd be a very happy Finance Minister if it comes in at less.
B. Ralston: And how recently…? I appreciate that there was…. We canvassed this fairly extensively last year. There were ongoing — what I think were referred to as — credit watch or monitoring meetings of this particular project. I take it that the concern about it has diminished as the project nears completion. How recently has that estimate of a number been provided to the minister or the ministry?
Hon. C. Taylor: Based on discussions that staff have had within the last week, we believe this project is on time and on budget.
B. Ralston: Perhaps on time but on the new budget. I don't think that it would be fair to say that it's on budget. We can leave that for another day.
What I'd like to turn to in the time that remains is…. The Auditor General recently issued a report, An Audit of Joint Solution Procurement and the Revenue Management Project. In that report, he made some comments about the evaluation by Treasury Board of the Provincial Laboratory Information Solution.
In the report, on page 27, he says this:
"A comprehensive business case with a detailed analysis and understanding of costs, risks and benefits is not being produced for every joint solution procurement project…We find that a detailed business case for the revenue management project had been approved by Treasury Board, but no such submission was made for the most recent ASD project completed, the Provincial Laboratory Information Solution. It was part of the Ministry of Health's eHealth Strategic Framework. As such, it had already been approved in principle as a part of a broader health strategy.
"However, no separate business case or other detailed analysis of costs, risks and benefits was done for PLIS. This means the ASD route has been taken for the project without government really knowing whether it is the optimal solution."
This is a contract for about $149 million. The Auditor General does say that he thinks it's important, understandably, that these reports be more than tabled — that they be discussed.
So my question is: does the minister, in the sense that she's responsible for Treasury Board, have a concern about the analysis that's been performed here by the Auditor General of a $149 million project?
Hon. C. Taylor: I should start off by saying that we do appreciate the work that is done by the Auditor General. We look at these reports, and we take account of the recommendations. I believe this report does acknowledge, in another part of the report, that we are continuously improving.
On the particular recommendation about ASD. That was one of our very earliest projects. The projects since then — and I believe the Auditor General agrees — have been improving, and we will certainly take to heart the recommendation that the business plans and cases that come to Treasury Board be more detailed.
B. Ralston: Well, I think the criticism here is that not only was it not detailed, but there was no business case put forward for this project. Can the minister explain why that project was approved by Treasury Board if there was no analysis forthcoming with the application when it was submitted?
Hon. C. Taylor: One of the great advantages of being surrounded by experience is that you can have a Deputy Minister of Finance who, in fact, would have been in the ministry that put that report forward to Treasury Board at that time. I'm assured that there was a business case and Treasury Board analysis done.
B. Ralston: I accept that, but obviously the Auditor General completely disagrees. He says here that no such submission was made for the most recent ASD project. It's not a more distant one. It's the most recent, the Provincial Laboratory Information Solution.
So what the Auditor General is saying in this report is that a detailed business case was not put forward in this submission to Treasury Board. It's the most recent one. It's a $149 million contract.
My question is: why did that happen, and what protections are now being looked at to protect the public when this kind of significant contract is being entered into?
Hon. C. Taylor: My apologies. Could we please ask the member opposite for the page he's referring to so that we can be sure we're talking about the same project?
B. Ralston: I'm looking at page 27. It's the third paragraph, beginning: "The PLIS was part of…."
Hon. C. Taylor: Yes, thank you. We now realize which project the member is speaking to. The process had been that a business case, an umbrella business case, would come to Treasury Board. What the Auditor
General is saying, as I understand it, is that each piece of it should have had a separate business case. So we accept his recommendation, and we'll certainly look at that going forward.
B. Ralston: This particular project is a contract with Sun Microsystems for up to, according to page 38, $149 million over 10 years. So what bigger initiative…? Is
[ Page 11920 ]
this a $500 million initiative that was presented to Treasury Board, then, in a single shot?
Hon. C. Taylor: We don't have that number at hand, but we will get that for you.
B. Ralston: The Auditor General also says that the government doesn't take account for the full cost of providing services in this way or contracting out. Even when the contract comes into existence, it still requires provincial employees to manage the contract and recommends that those costs be included in the contract.
I'm looking, again, at page 27. They're talking, at the bottom of page 27:
"Completing the joint solution procurement process for the revenue management project involved a significant amount of senior management time, additional staff time and other resources.
"These costs were not fully identified and were therefore not considered as part of the decision to outsource or not. Nor were the ongoing costs to manage the contractual relationship with EDS Canada" — which was this revenue management project — "or to liaise with all of the different ministries served by the arrangement considered as part of the comparison of different revenue management options.
"For Treasury Board and other decision-makers to make fully informed decisions, they require details of the full cost of the various options available."
Again, these are huge contracts by any measure, and a significant part of the cost of managing these contracts was not included in the business case submitted to Treasury Board. Can the minister confirm that steps will be taken to change this, or does the government's ideological predisposition to this form of service mean that it isn't interested in getting value for money and is not interested in fully costing the way in which these services are outsourced?
Hon. C. Taylor: Again, we do appreciate these reports, and in many instances we take the advice. There could be arguments on either side in terms of whether or not you include the costs within the ministry. But we accept the suggestion, and we want to do this as well as we can.
B. Ralston: Is the minister saying, then, that in the future in preparing submissions and considering whether to provide services in this way, those costs will be included in the submission to Treasury Board, that they'll be required as a matter of policy? I detected a somewhat weaker commitment on that.
Hon. C. Taylor: We wish to include all appropriate costs when we make these evaluations.
B. Ralston: In this report the EDS revenue management project was also evaluated, and there was a serious error in the baseline information that was made available, resulting in, prospectively, windfall profits to the contractor, EDS. Then there was, as a result, what was called a refresh; in other words, a contract was renegotiated.
The Auditor General says:
"Several government staff told us that provision of baseline performance information is an area where government tends to be weak. This was also explicitly stated in the revenue management business case for an in-house solution originally submitted to the Treasury Board in 2002.
"Having poor performance baseline information is a problem in any situation, but it becomes a more acute issue when monetary incentives are based on it. If it is used in business cases to justify a particular course of action, it could lead to wrong decisions being made on whether to outsource at all."
What comment does the minister have, again, on this very significant, in my view, criticism of the process followed by Treasury Board in negotiating the EDS contract?
Hon. C. Taylor: Treasury Board did not negotiate the contract with EDS, so I would refer discussion about the specifics of that contract and any issues that arose to the minister responsible.
B. Ralston: The difficulty with that suggestion is that I did question this minister on the ASD project. That's the Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services. The report, though, from the Auditor General emerged after those estimates were completed, so that option is not available to me. I think it may look reasonable when one reads the transcript, but in reality, there's nothing to it because I can't go back, given the very restricted time that's available for estimates.
Does the minister not have a concern about the evaluation process that was apparently or not performed by the Treasury Board in making this decision on this EDS contract, which according to the appendix here is, I think, a very significant contract, as well, over a number of years? If I can just flip to the appendix…. It's $572 million over ten years.
Hon. C. Taylor: The EDS contract is not with Labour; it's with Small Business and Revenue.
I believe that the member opposite sits on the Public Accounts Committee, and the Public Accounts Committee, I believe, reviews these reports and will have the opportunity to ask some of these very specific questions.
The Chair: Member, if I may, I think the minister does make a point. As you are aware, you sit on the Public Accounts Committee, and of course, these reports will all come forward or can come forward.
B. Ralston: And I'll have the opportunity to ask usually a single question there.
But I know this is the most open and transparent government in Canada…
The Chair: I certainly intend to give you as much latitude as possible.
B. Ralston: …and they don't want to answer basic questions about multi-million-dollar contracts. I think that's regrettable, Mr. Chair. I am being shuffled off to some other part of the government apparatus at this point.
[ Page 11921 ]
Is the minister not prepared to recognize that the evaluation by Treasury Board of these outsourcing arrangements needs some significant improvement in order to protect the public interest as these projects come forward to Treasury Board in the future?
Hon. C. Taylor: As I've said several times, we work closely with the Auditor General. We're very pleased when we get recommendations as to how we can continually evolve and improve best practices.
Since the member opposite has quoted the Auditor General, I think that we shouldn't tell half the story. He does say:
"We concluded from our work that the joint solution process and the outsourcing of revenue management substantially met the principles of good practice identified. We found that strong guidance and support are provided for ministries using the process. We also identified some areas where improvements could be made to improve the process, address staffing issues and strengthen procedures to ensure the independence of those involved."
That's the whole point of these Auditor General reports. There are areas where we have ideas of how we can improve what we're already doing, but there's a recognition within this report that from the first time that we started to outsource, we're improving along the way, and we will continue to get better.
B. Ralston: I notice that we're almost out of time.
In another report of the Auditor General, called Improving Financial Reporting for British Columbians, a report of March 2008, on page 15, the Auditor General makes a recommendation that the government should disclose more details of its contractual obligations.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
Since the comptroller general is here to assist, I'm wondering whether the minister can comment on that recommendation.
Hon. C. Taylor: The specific detailed information that the Auditor General points to is available, but we don't believe as a ministry that it is appropriate for it to be included in the summary statements because this is a higher-level financial statement.
B. Ralston: If it's not available here — because, typically, this would be the first source for people seeking very basic financial information about the financial status of the government — where would it be available? Why should the individual reader be obliged to search out, through individual ministries or agencies, detailed information rather than including it in a single presentation, as the Auditor General quite reasonably suggests?
Hon. C. Taylor: The information that we provide in public accounts meets our obligation to follow GAAP. If we ever get requests for more detailed information, we do provide it.
B. Ralston: The Auditor General, similarly in the same report, suggests that for business-type, university-controlled organizations, the government needs to provide additional disclosure in the financial statements. I'm thinking particularly of the University of British Columbia, which has a very substantial real estate arm.
Does the minister have any comment, with the assistance of the comptroller general, on that suggestion?
Hon. C. Taylor: We do believe that, given the summary nature of public accounts, it would not be appropriate to have that detailed information in that particular location.
B. Ralston: I have more questions, but I understand that the Lieutenant-Governor is coming to the precinct shortly, and we're obliged to conclude these proceedings.
So with some reluctance I would say that given the time, I don't have any further questions. I'd like to thank all the staff who attended here, and I apologize to those who were called but didn't get the opportunity to assist the process.
Vote 32: ministry operations, $60,293,000 — approved.
Vote 33: public affairs bureau, $36,994,000 — approved.
MANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC FUNDS AND DEBT
Vote 44: management of public funds and debt, $401,700,000 — approved.
Vote 45: contingencies (all ministries) and new programs, $375,000,000 — approved.
Vote 46: B.C. family bonus, $14,000,000 — approved.
Vote 48: commissions on collection of public funds, $1,000 — approved.
Vote 49: allowances for doubtful revenue accounts, $1,000 — approved.
Vote 52: Pacific carbon trust, $5,000,000 — approved.
Hon. C. Taylor: I move that the committee rise, report resolutions and completion of the Ministry of Finance and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:06 p.m.
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